New Bermudian Rock Skink hatchlings mark the first sign of a successful captive breeding program, but more needs to be done before they can return to the wild.
The Bermuda Archipelago is home to a wide array of native wildlife, but only one is an endemic terrestrial vertebrate: the Bermudian Rock Skink. This native skink is Critically Endangered and faces a number of threats from invasive species and pollution.
Three years ago, conservationists stepped in to boost the skink’s population. Now, the first signs of success are showing–the Chester Zoo in the United Kingdom experienced breeding success for the species when the first seven skinks hatched. This is a major milestone for the project, but only the first step in bolstering the wild population. Dr. Gerardo Garcia, Curator of Lower Vertebrates and Invertebrates at Chester Zoo commented:
Receiving a few skinks from a population that was estimated to be just 1,500 individuals is an enormous responsibility that you take very seriously.
The process of creating a breeding program for the skinks was one of trial and error. No researcher had ever attempted to breed the species; challenges and a steep learning curve were inevitable. The species’ natural mating behavior can be rather violent–researchers had to discern the fine line between normal and excessive aggression, which was particularly difficult given that males and females look the same. Dr. Garcia explained:
When we put them on pairs for breeding this season we immediately found elements of fight between them and that could be the normal male/female interaction or something more serious if we selected two males.
Habitat conservation efforts and captive breeding are crucial for the long term survival of the Bermudian Rock Skink. Education efforts and invasive predator removal projects will also need to be considered to ensure the health of the wild population. Removing the threats the species faces in the wild is vital to protecting them in the long term.
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