A British zoo has taken delivery of the final colony of a critically-endangered species of snail in a bid to save it from extinction, it was revealed.
The final three groups of Partula faba snails in existence have been consolidated at Bristol Zoo in a final attempt to renew the population.
Once endemic to the island of Raiatea in French Polynesia, the species is now completely extinct in the wild.
The remaining 88 snails, which measure 2mm long, will now be nurtured by invertebrate experts at the Zoo in a custom-built climate-controlled room in the Zoo’s ‘Bug World.’
Keeper Grier Ewins said: ”Working with these, and so many other rare animals at the Zoo, is incredibly satisfying.
”To think that I am nurturing the entire global population of these snails, and encouraging them to breed, is very rewarding – as well as a huge responsibility.
”It shows just how important the role of zoos and other conservation organisations are in helping to breed and protect endangered species, otherwise we risk losing many species forever, which would be a tragedy for us and future generations of people.
”Tree snails are incredibly endangered, with Partula faba being one of the most endangered of them all – they really are on the edge of survival.
”The great news however, is that this last remaining population of Raiatean tree snails has been steadily growing since we took them on.”
Bristol Zoo is now the only place in the world where the snails can be found after populations were moved from the Imperial College in London and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey.
The consolidated group has produced 15 offspring so far, renewing hopes amongst experts that the population can be saved and new colonies can be released back into the wild.
Curator of Invertebrates at the Zoo Warren Spencer said: ”Although Raiatean tree snails are extinct in the wild, Bristol Zoo hopes to work with its conservation partners to release some snails into safe ‘zones’ – reserves – back on the island of Raiatea and then to the surrounding area of a new reserve.”
”However, this can only be done once we have successfully removed or controlled the spread of the predatory ‘cannibal snail’ which was responsible for this species’ extinction.”
An estimated 80 per cent of French Polynesian tree snail species have become extinct since the 1970s when invasive species were introduced.
Loss of habitat, due to highly invasive plants such as the South American velvet tree, is also changing the landscape of the islands and adversely affecting the wildlife.
Five other species of tree snail are being kept at the Zoo, all of which are part of international captive breeding