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COLCHESTER ZOO HOSTS A SUCCESSFUL TORTOISE CONSERVATION AND WELFARE CONFERENCE TO HELP SAVE ENDANGERED TORTOISES

On 8th, 9th and 10th November, 2013, over 130 people gathered from across the UK at Colchester Zoo to hear and discuss how the tortoise could be conserved for future generations as a pet and in the wild. The initiative has been spear-headed by a new organisation called Tortoise Welfare UK (TWUK), a non-profit making organization working to improve tortoise welfare standards in the United Kingdom. We strive to improve welfare through organization of, and involvement with, working panels, lectures, workshops and conferences. 

The aim is to work with all areas concerned with tortoises, including trade, rescue, veterinary professionals and enthusiast organizations. The TWUK initiative has stemmed from the Tortoise Club UK group which is now in its 11th year of work to improve husbandry and welfare within the private sector. With over 1000 members, The Tortoise Club aims to assist in launching a new initiative and has successfully piloted work with fellow European groups including Turtle Survival Alliance Europe (TSA Europe) and educational establishments, to inspire more research and collaboration. Visits have included efforts to support TSA work in Asia through web design and field trips to explore possibilities for future joint projects. The most recent trip has included a North Morocco project to study chelonian habitat.

Within the European Union there is an unstable and uncertain future for reptiles. There are no guidelines, nor neutral professional representation for chelonian conservation and welfare within the areas involved, such as the pet trade, conservation and private sectors. There has never been such a serious need for better keeping, breeding and preservation of chelonian biodiversity. Tortoise Welfare UK initiative aims to give the UK a more active role in making that future brighter. The aim is to bring a respected collective of representatives to defend chelonians in an active network, to ensure that tortoises survive for future generations.

The conference programme began on Friday with a practical workshop, ‘ Introduction to tortoise husbandry and healthcare’. This included identification of 30 species of tortoises as well as habitat design, hibernation and how to spot common health issues. Saturday was the weekend highlight of speakers who had travelled from as far as Holland to share their knowledge. First up was Eleanor Tirtasana Chubb, who gave an update on the work of Tortoise Welfare UK and founder organisation Norfolk Tortoise Club, UK. This was followed by Richard Struijk, a leading authority of rare Asian freshwater turtles who spoke about his work with the European Studbook Foundation (ESF) and his personal experiences on husbandry and captive breeding of Cuora picturata. www.europeanstudboook.eu

After a short break Richard Fry from Micro ID spoke in detail about Microchipping advances and chipping of reptiles openly answering questions on many aspects. Whilst enjoying the inclusive lunch, delegates were able to view education displays, trade stands and a sponsored silent auction and raffle which included

a reptile incubator from main sponsor Peregrine. The afternoon session opened with Ryan Walker, specialist in Madagascan tortoises, giving a photo presentation of the plight of the unique Madagascan tortoises and exclusive photographs taken from his three years of fieldwork. Ryan’s talk was particularly special as it highlighted Colchester Zoo’s three young Madagascan radiated tortoises. It is hoped that this trio of customs seized tortoises from Hong Kong airport will help aid an international initiative run by the ESF to encourage captive assurance colonies, which may someday be released back in to the wild. Due to loss of habitat, over-collection for the pet trade and demand for local bush meat, many rare and beautiful turtles and tortoises that roam the planet face extinction within a decade without human intervention.

This led nicely into an informative talk from Chris Newman who reported on exotic reptile legislation in the UK and collaborative efforts to improve law in positive way with organisations such as the federation of British herpetologists. After a break for a hot drink and the raffle draw, the day was completed by a report from vets, Iain Cope and Sarah Pellett on their research into tortoise parasites and treatment, as well as their work involving MRI scanning of tortoises.

For those able to stay, the event continued into the early hours with a social evening meal at a local hotel. Sunday provided a rare opportunity to hear leading authority of chelonian medicine, ‘Stuart Mcarthur,’ talk about good practice through diagnosis and surgery. This was followed by veterinary presentations and case studies by Iain Cope and Sarah Pellett.

As a thank you to Colchester Zoo for their hospitality, TWUK were able to present £500 of equipment to the reptile department for a second time. This included a UV index meter for checking correct UV light levels in enclosures, UV bulbs, tubes, starter units and books, as well as 6 kilos of plantain and wildflower seed for feeding the resident tortoises. Overall feedback on TWUK’s second conference has been very positive, and plans are already taking place to host further workshops and conference for 2014/2015. To learn more about TWUK workshops, conferences, reports, or to get involved, please visit www.tortoisewelfare.co.uk

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Conference at Colchester Zoo brings hope

for some of the world's most endangered tortoises this November.

· Tortoise Welfare & Conservation Conference - Colchester Zoo - 8th, 9th and 10th November 10.00 - 4.00pm. 

· Three young radiated tortoises at Colchester Zoo to head start a conservation breeding programme.

· Special Conference Weekend: Madagascar’s Tortoise Field Report, Tortoise Husbandry & Healthcare Training, Veterinary Hospital and Research, Conservation Breeding and Release Initiatives, networking meals and zoo tours.

Tortoises have long been considered a British favourite, as the loyal pet and must-see zoo attraction. Their special place in the hearts of many helped inspire a new initiative to improve welfare and conservation in the form of a new organisation called Tortoise Welfare UK (TWUK). "The group was setup to unite animal sector and public support to promote practical change for tortoises in captivity and the wild," says Eleanor Tirtasana, group founder.

Due to loss of habitat, over collection for the pet trade and demand for local bush meat, many rare and beautiful turtles and tortoises that roam the planet face extinction within a decade without human intervention. Ryan Walker, specialist in Madagascan tortoises, will be speaking at a TWUK organised conference, kindly hosted by Colchester Zoo this November. Ryan will be giving a photo presentation of the plight of the unique Madagascan tortoises and sharing exclusive photographs taken from his three years of fieldwork. The talk is open to hobby conservationists and specialists alike.

Ryan’s talk is particularly special as it highlights Colchester Zoo’s three young Madagascan radiated Tortoises. It is hoped that this trio of customs seized tortoises from Hong Kong airport will help aid an international initiative to encourage captive assurance colonies, which someday will be able to be released back in to the wild. Exclusive speaker, Ross Kiester, chief scientist of American organisation The Turtle Conservancy, will be talking about the logistics of wild release and the current issues which surround illegal trafficking.

Other talks will include hospital reports and science research from the veterinary world but in addition to speakers, practical information sessions for beginners and more advanced attendees in tortoise care and treatment has been scheduled to help share knowledge. "After a fun and successful first year with 130 people in attendance, we are proud to announce a new and improved second conference. We hope that practical days of learning and speakers such as Ryan Walker will encourage both professionals seeking experience and enthusiasts alike," says Eleanor Tirtasana.

The Tortoise Conference will take place at Colchester Zoo on the 8th, 9th and 10th November between 10.00 - 4.00pm and includes goodie bags, lunch and access to exclusive prizes in a fundraising raffle. Please note that pre booking is essential. To learn more about this event and book, please visit www.tortoisewelfare.co.uk or call 01692 402687.

http://www.colchester-zoo.co.uk/

In collaboration with
Colchester Zoo and Tortoise Club