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Chester Zoo rescues ‘world’s rarest’ three-legged tortoise – and gives him wheels to move around

Conservationists at the UK's largest charity zoo say Hope is an "incredibly special tortoise".

Emily Sergeant Emily Sergeant - 6th July 2022

Chester Zoo has rescued a three-legged Ploughshare tortoise from illegal smugglers in Hong Kong, and he’s said to be one of the rarest in the world.

The newest’s tortoise resident – who has been named Hope – is one of the world’s rarest animals, with fewer than 300 remaining in the wild, and he now calls the UK’s largest charity zoo his home after being rescued by customs officials from a would-be wildlife trader who was found with a suitcase concealing 57 live and endangered tortoises when travelling from the Comoro Islands off the coast of East Africa in 2019.

Only 63 specimens of Ploughshare tortoise are said to “exist legally” outside of Madagascar as part of vital conservation breeding programmes battling to save the species.

“Chester Zoo is now home to four of these,” a spokesperson for the zoo said.

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He added that the tortoise species was “highly prized for their distinctive gold and black shells”, and are known to fetch “exceptionally high prices” on the black market.

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After being rescued, Hope was immediately transferred into the care of conservationists at Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden Wild Animal Rescue Centre in Hong Kong, where he was found to be missing his front left leg and claws on its hind left leg, which were said to possibly be due to a birth defect, or injury picked up when very young.

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Experts in Hong Kong decided to fit support rollers under Hope’s lower shell to help with his balance and movement, and further modifications were then made to the rollers at Chester Zoo after he arrived in the UK.

Dr Gerardo Garcia, Curator of Lower Vertebrates and Invertebrates at Chester Zoo, said Hope’s prosthetic mobility support has been “specially-fitted to help him get around”.

“It works wonderfully well – he moves even quicker than his three neighbours.”

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Conservationists at Chester Zoo now say they’re looking for Hope to live up to his name and eventually join an important European conservation-breeding programme – which is playing a vital role in saving this critically-endangered species from extinction.

“He’s settling in nicely to his new home,” Dr Garcia added.

“Hopefully, in several years’ time once he’s more developed, he’ll go on to produce offspring and contribute to the survival of the species thanks to the vital insurance population in conservation zoos.”

“This is a species that’s sadly under huge pressure for its survival and there’s a very real possibility that this species could be lost forever,” added Mike Jordan – Director of Animals and Plants at Chester Zoo.

“That’s why Hope is such an important addition to the zoo.

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“We refuse to sit back and see this incredible species disappear and so our aim now is to maintain an ark population, by coming together with some of the world’s other leading conservation zoos to breed a genetically viable safety net population and prevent its extinction.”

Ploughshare tortoises are native to Madagascar.

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The species is listed under the highest protection category of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES) – which prohibits all forms of international commercial trade – and is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) having been poached to the very brink of extinction.

Featured Image – Chester Zoo