Snail mail from Edinburgh to Tahiti

05/09/2018 in RZSS

Partula snails at Edinburgh Zoo prior to their journey to Tahiti

Above: Partula snails at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo

In a joint effort between RZSS, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and other zoos around the world, we’re celebrating a conservation milestone today!

Our senior presenter, Gareth Bennett, has traveled to Tahiti from Edinburgh to release more critically endangered Partula Snails into the wild – this year reaching a grand total of 10,000 snails bred for release.

Below: Find out more about our work with Partula snails

This landmark figure is the culmination of a 30 year global breeding and reintroduction project for Patrula snails and represents one of the world’s largest reintroduction initiatives.

Now on their way back from the brink of extinction – after nearly being wiped out in the 1980s by the introduced predatory rosy wolf snail (Euglandina rosea) – thousands of Partula snails have been reintroduced, thanks to the global breeding programme coordinated by ZSL London Zoo and involving RZSS, Bristol Zoo, Chester Zoo and Marwell Wildlife.

With reintroductions taking place on the islands of Moorea and Tahiti in the Society Islands, this year’s export, for the first time ever, will also include a species that is currently extinct in the wild.

Above: Images from London Zoo and Edinburgh Zoo 2018 exports and release

Jo Elliott, Animal Collection Manager at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, said: “We are proud to breed Partula snails and help restore them back into their native habitat.  This is a wonderful conservation success story and really helps to highlight the important role that zoos play in protecting species against extinction. The results we are seeing are made possible through the efforts of committed zoos working together as part of an international breeding programme, which bodes well for both Polynesian tree snails and wildlife conservation in general”.

ZSL’s Curator of Invertebrates, Paul Pearce-Kelly said: “This year we’ll be sending out a species of Partula, the Navenave snail (Partula mirabilis) that’s new to the reintroduction initiative and for which we have strong hopes for. I believe through the collaborative efforts of the international zoo community and French Polynesian Government environmental agencies; this major conservation initiative has an excellent chance of saving these fascinating species”.

This release comes at a special time, as the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s expedition to the ‘South Seas’ sailed by just last week, on the 26 August – during which the first ever Partula snail was collected on Raiatea, Society Islands and named Limax faba Martyn or ‘the Bean snail’, in 1784.

The CEO of BIAZA, Dr Kirsten Pullen, said: “The Partula story demonstrates how BIAZA zoos can become a powerhouse for conservation when working collaboratively.  The opportunities for the successful reintroduction of endangered species are dependent on cooperation between many different bodies including environmental agencies and the governments involved.  Zoos are a part of the jigsaw and provide the expertise in managing the populations of these snails back to sustainable levels.  The experiences our zoos have gained from this work can easily be applied to other species and situations”.  

Zookeeper Amy preparing the partula snails at Edinburgh Zoo before their journey to Tahiti

Above: Zookeeper Amy prepares some of the Partula snails at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo ahead of their reintroduction

The Partula snails represent a genus of air-breathing tropical land snails, specially adapted to live in different volcanic valleys across the archipelago. The genus contains 104 species, of which there are 15 species and subspecies in the conservation breeding programme.

Once abundant across the islands, many species of Partula were nearly wiped out in the 1980s and early 1990s after the rosy wolf snail was introduced to rid the island of a previously-introduced alien species, the African giant land snail (Lissachatina fulica).  Unfortunately, the predatory rosy wolf snail preferred the tiny natives.

To learn more about RZSS conservation projects, visit www.rzss.org.uk/conservation/

 

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