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The heat is on for zoo tortoises

Published: November 7, 2016

Cornwall College Newquay research

Staff from Cornwall College Newquay are looking for animal-loving locals to shell out a pound for the welfare of an endangered species of tortoise at Newquay Zoo.

A team of Applied Zoology teaching staff from the College have launched a new crowd funding project in conjunction with former student Rhiann Mitchell-Holland. The project is looking to find out how critically threatened Madagascan radiated tortoises use the heat sources in their enclosure at Newquay Zoo and aims to collect valuable data that can be widely shared in the zoo world.

The data will contribute to understanding the impact that temperature has on the success of captive breeding programmes for this particular species- the research project will be the first of its kind.

Research Coordinator Dr.Peter McGregor from Cornwall College Newquay, said: “Surprisingly little is known about how captive tortoises control their body temperature by using heat sources in their enclosure. Furthermore, tortoise breeding success in captivity is low and may be related to thermal environment.

“We have the opportunity to change this in the near future. We have suitable infrared cameras which measure the temperature range of both the tortoise and the tortoise enclosure and will help to establish the most effective heat sources for captive tortoises. This information can then be incorporated into Newquay Zoo’s new tortoise house and we can monitor its effectiveness. The costs of the resources required are small in relation to the build and equipment costs of the larger project, yet they could transform the way zoo tortoises are provided with heat and in turn increase the chances of successful captive breeding.”

The research project, entitled ‘The Heat is on or is it?-Better heating for captive tortoises’,  is one of 14 from around the world featuring in the Zoo Challenge, backed by Experiment, an online platform for funding scientific discoveries based on the west coast of the USA. The team at Cornwall College Newquay were approached directly to take part in the challenge by the crowdfunder on the strength of a recent paper published in the Zoo Biology periodical co-written by a student and staff from the College and Newquay Zoo staff.

The project has been attracting support and endorsements from many notable zoological institutions. Head of Field Programmes for Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust Andrew Terry, said: “Understanding how to breed highly threatened species in captivity can be essential to their survival. One of the core emerging issues within the conservation breeding of tortoises is how to heat them effectively and how this may impact on the success of breeding programmes. I strongly support this research and look forward to using the results directly to inform our breeding programmes for some of the most threatened tortoises in the world.”

Project Lead Dr Kelly Haynes continued: “You can get involved by pledging a donation to the project. Any amount will help the College team to reach our target, so please give whatever you can by visiting our online donations page. We have about a month to raise the project total. If you are unable to help by donating, please help spread the information far and wide through your networks in case someone you know can.”

Support the project by visiting: https://experiment.com/projects/the-heat-is-on-or-is-it-better-heating-for-captive-tortoises

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