Endangered Burmese star tortoise hatched at Toronto Zoo

The first of the extremely endangered species to be hatched in Canada, the tortoise is now on display at the Toronto Zoo after a 135-day incubation.

A Toronto Zoo employees holds a baby  Burmese star tortoise, the first of its kind to be hatched in Canada.


A Toronto Zoo employees holds a baby Burmese star tortoise, the first of its kind to be hatched in Canada.

The first of a rare, endangered breed of tortoise to be hatched in Canada is now on display at the Toronto Zoo.

The Burmese star tortoise was born in early June, making the Toronto Zoo one of only a few North American facilities to hatch one.

The baby tortoise was hatched after a heavily monitored 135-day incubation. The egg was laid along with eight others in January of this year, and was the only fertile egg of the crop. But, halfway through the incubation, staff discovered a small crack in the shell of the egg.

Staff used a small, ultra-sensitive microphone to monitor the embryo’s heart-rate to make sure it was progressing positively.

Burmese star tortoises, known for the distinctive star pattern on their shells, are found natively in forests in dry regions of Myanmar. Their population has been seriously affected by hunting for food and harvesting for the illegal pet trade, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. Destruction of their habitats for agriculture has also helped put them on the endangered list.

In fact, this particular of species of tortoise is so endangered it has been listed as ecologically, or functionally, extinct, according to Dr. Andrew Lentini, a curatorial keeper of reptiles and amphibians at the zoo.

“There just aren’t enough individuals in the wild to sustain a population,” Lentini said. “So that population is really declining so quickly that it’s just not going to be able to rebound on its own.”

The Toronto Zoo has had four Burmese star tortoises under its care since 2007, donated by a private individual who imported them legally through Europe, but due to the length of time required to reach sexual maturity, this is the first successful breeding.

The Toronto Zoo is a member of the Turtle Survival Alliance, an international group of academics, zoos and private facilities that is trying to preserve the population of the star tortoise.

Lentini said the four (now five) tortoises at the zoo are part of an insurance population, in an effort to breed the species in captivity and prevent outright extinction.

It has not been decided yet whether the newest tortoise will be released into the wild, but Lentini said it is a possibility. Since the tortoises are just reaching maturity, the Zoo hopes to have more success in breeding in the future, to help keep the population alive.

“They’re beautiful animals, if you get a chance to come out here and see these guys,” Lentini said. “They’re absolutely spectacular.”