After nearly two months of closure due to the covid-19 virus restrictions, the Zoo re-opened in mid-May under certain restrictions.
Special precautions have been put in place to protect both visitors and staff alike: face masks are mandatory at all times; special disinfection of handrails, public restrooms and other areas; closure of water fountains, indoor exhibits and exhibits with crawling tunnels (such as the prairie dogs).
Additionally, the Zoo has added a number of special stations for hand washing and water-bottle filling with non-touch, infra-red technology.
The Negev tortoises live in the Small Animal House which is still closed to visitors and they are enjoying the quiet.
Overall, we have had three new hatchings that hatched over the past few months.
Unfortunately, one was unwell and taken for treatment at the Zoo's veterinary clinic where it died.
There is still one more egg waiting to hatch and is showing signs that it is viable.
The two babies born last year are getting bigger and remain behind-the-scenes in the Small Animal House.
The good news is that already we have two eggs in the incubators and we look forward to seeing them successful hatch in the near future.
In the wild, most egg laying activity would take place in spring or early summer, to allow the hatchlings to grow a little before their first hibernation. There is, however, no set breeding season for the majority of tortoises in captivity and egg production can take place at any time of year.
It is common for tortoises to lay more than 1 clutch of eggs in the year, and the number of eggs laid does vary with different species of tortoise, but as a general guide, the average clutch size will be between 2 and 12 eggs.
The incubation period of tortoise eggs is quite long in most species, the average incubation period are between 100 and 160 days.
The two new baby tortoises that hatched this past spring are growing up fast.
They are still hanging out behind the scenes in the Small Animal House.
One of the interesting things that the keepers have learned this past year is about the impact of the tortoises' diet on the appearance of their carapaces.
In the picture below, you will see the difference between the tortoise raised in the Zoo (with the raised bumps on its carapace) and the tortoise that was rescued and had her carapace repaired, who grew uo outside the Zoo (her carapace is smoother.)
The keepers found that the tortoises who had been raised on lettuce had these bumpy shells and have since changed the tortoises diets from lettuce (which is not native to the Negev Desert, of course) to a local plant to the region: mallow
The mallow is an annual plant that reaches a height of some 50 cm (20 inches). It blossoms from February to June, and has pink, five-petaled leaves, approximately 2.5 cm (about one inch) in diameter. Mallow, whose modern Hebrew name, halamit, is almost identical to the biblical halamot (mentioned in Job 6:6 for example). The Arabic name for the plant is hubeza, which it is commonly. Israel is home to six species of the plant.
I just came back from a visit to the Small Animal Enclosure at the Zoo, where I went to visit the latest "baby" born last week.
Still un-named, the tiny baby tortoise (pictured during its hatching) is being kept behind-the-scenes in a small terranium until it is big enough to join its cousins and uncles and aunties in the main exhibition.
This cutie is the third tortoise hatched this season and according to Tal, the small animals keeper, there is lots of dating and mating going on and they hope to have another round of hatchings in the coming months.
Slowly but surely, we are making a difference to the numbers of this critically endangered species!
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