by Heather Lowe
The TSA recently welcomed an important addition to the Turtle Survival Center (TSC). Hatched in May 2014, the one year old Southern Vietnam Box Turtle (Cuora picturata) was acquired from a private breeder in the United States. The captive bred individual represents an important step in building a first generation population which is crucial for the long-term breeding efforts of the species.
The critically endangered species was originally only documented in food markets in China. It wasn’t until 2010 that turtle biologists were able to observe the species in its natural habitat – the southern end of the Truong Son Mountains in Southern Vietnam. Like its close relatives, Bourret’s Box Turtle in central Vietnam and the Indochinese Box Turtle in the North, the Southern Vietnam Box Turtle lives in dense wet forests and is an omnivore, feeding on a variety of plant and animal matter. Unique to the species is its unusually shaped pupil which can either have a blocky appearance or look like it is “leaking” out into the iris.
The Southern Vietnam Box Turtle has historically been difficult to acclimate to captive environments, making them rare in captive collections. Because of this difficulty, it is rarely bred in captivity when compared to other species of Cuora. Fortunately for the species, there has been increasing reproductive success in European collections in recent years. With the addition of the first captive bred Southern Vietnam Box Turtle to the TSC collection, we hope the U.S. population will be able to contribute to the genetic diversity and stability of this rare and important species.
Spring is in full bloom at the TSC and with it comes a multitude of natural browse which grows on the Center’s grounds. Many of the animals in the collection have a varied diet and our “home grown” vegetation allows the team to feed a variety of food items, provide an enriched environment and save money, all at the same time. From trees, to grasses, to flowers, the team incorporates a number of different items into the hundreds of diets they prepare. TSC staff make an effort to feed a diverse range of food items, and to vary their diet as much as possible. With that in mind, the team feeds natural browse based on individual schedules. Facility Manager and Lead Keeper, Nate Haislip admits trimming plants and trees to feed to the turtles is one of his favorite parts of the job! Many of the trees and plants that are used have been generously donated over the past couple of years, including a recent donation of four red mulberry trees from our friends at Ty Ty Nursery in Georgia.
A new digital x-ray machine has been installed in the veterinary clinic at the TSC. Generously donated by Todd Pickler at Midland X-Ray Sales and Service, the new equipment will be integral in monitoring reproductive biology as well as routine medical evaluation on all the species at the TSC. The new x-ray machine is just one of the many upgrades. Other advancements include the enlarged lab and expanded quarantine space. Future equipment acquisitions include an ultrasound machine and fluorescent microscope, as we develop a state-of-the-art veterinary clinic!