Date: July 17, 2009
Good and Bad News from China
On 3 July the Suzhou staff found a second clutch of 65 eggs. 36 eggs -including 13 broken ones - were removed for artificial incubation and the rest left in the sand beach. However, when Dr. Gerald Kuchling returned to the Zoo he candled all Rafetus eggs in the incubators, at about five weeks and one week post-oviposition. Unfortunately, he considers most of them to be infertile. A few appeared to have been fertilized, but died early during development.
This week, Emily King reported that the female laid a third clutch on the night of 14 July, with 67 eggs. Half were removed and split between the three incubators, all in a sand media. They are also likely to be infertile, but this has yet to be determined. To date clutches of 56, 65 and 67 eggs have been laid for a total of 188. Had these all eggs been fertile, consider the enormous boost this would have given to the world population of Rafetus swinhoei! This sad news is terribly disappointing for all of those that have worked so hard to save this species through captive breeding, and to the caring donors that have given so generously to ensure success. As was the case last year, we believe the problems stem back to poor nutrition. Despite frequent urgings and instructions from the TSA team to feed a balanced and calcium rich diet, the changes were made too late in the year to adequately impact egg and sperm production in the pair. Supplements were provided but not enough whole fish, chicken and quail were fed to make a difference.
As we look to the future, it appears unlikely that we will hatch any Rafetus again this year. We must begin gearing up for 2010 and working to convince the Chinese Zoo managers to radically change the diets for these animals now.
Another troubling issue is the lack of crowd control at Suzhou Zoo and the amounts of garbage (plastic bags, food wrappers) that are thrown into the Rafetus pools (see image below). The female has been observed eating trash floating on the surface and we have serious concerns for her health. The solution is a high glass barrier to separate the public from the ponds, and the Zoo has agreed to this; however the cost for construction is estimated to total $35,000 US. We will launch a fund-raising campaign at the St Louis conference in August, and we hope we can count on your support. Remember as frustrating as this process is, we really don't have any choice but to push on.
- Rick Hudson, TSA President