From pallets of plushes and roses by the gross to chocolate in every imaginable shape, there are a lot of go-to options for Valentine’s Day gifts. But what to give the animal care specialist in your life?
Dozens of adorable baby turtles. (Obviously.)
“It’s hard not to look at a turtle and go, ‘Hey, that’s a cool animal,’” laughs Bill Hughes, the senior herpetologist at the Tennessee Aquarium.
On March 13, the Aquarium will celebrate opening an all-new Turtles of the World gallery. In addition to exhibits featuring species from turtle hotspots like the Southeastern United States and Southeast Asia, the gallery’s beating heart is its turtle “nursery.”
The facility serves as equal parts working lab and parade of reptilian cuteness. Here — much like visiting the maternity ward of a hospital — guests can look through an acrylic window to watch and interact with husbandry experts as they tend to turtle hatchlings.
Fig. 1 baby Keeled Box Turtle (Cuora mouhotii)
The gallery was designed to help visitors fall in love with these terrific, troubled reptiles, almost all of which are facing significant challenges in the wild. The miniature bodies and overwhelming adorability of these tiny turtles will certainly make strides towards that goal, but the nursery also contributes to turtles’ overall conservation.
These young reptiles came to the Aquarium from a wide variety of sources, including conservation partners such as the Turtle Survival Alliance, other zoological institutions and private holdings. Many of the species guests will be able to see are imperiled in some fashion. The hatchlings will be cared for at the Aquarium until they are old enough to move to other facilities. In some cases, they may eventually be reintroduced to the wild.
Fig. 2 baby Indochinese Box Turtle (Cuora galbinifrons)
“The goal of caring for turtles like this is to create what we call ‘assurance populations’ in zoos and aquariums that are viable, long term,” Hughes says. “That way, if something happens to the wild populations, the species doesn’t disappear. You still have a colony in human care that has genetic diversity.”
The Tennessee Aquarium has declared this year to be The Year of the Turtle. Throughout 2020, the Aquarium and partnering organizations will share news, host events and highlight conservation programs that showcase the charisma, ecological importance and imperilment of turtle species worldwide.
Fig. 3 Roti Island Snakeneck Turtle (Chelodina mccordi) (top left), McCord's Box Turtle (Cuora mccordi) (top right), Red-bellied Box Turtle (Pseudemys rubiventris)