Today is quite an exciting day for me. Its also a big day for Conservation at the Memphis Zoo. Today I packed up tiny Western Striped newts to be sent to Florida for release into the wild. This is the first of hopefully many shipments that will be made this year.
This is actually a project I've been involved in since 2010. In 2010 the Coastal Plains Institute and the US Forest Service began conducting surveys of the Apalachicola National Forest to see if they could find any remaining populations of the Western Striped Newt. Historically they were found there, but that year they were not able to find any.
In 2011, they collected 20 very young animals that were genetically the same as what would have been found in Apalachicola from another location and then sent them to us at the Memphis Zoo. I raised them to breeding size, which took about a year. In 2012, the adult newts bred and we hatched lots of babies called larva, but they didnt survive. This can be common in young animals that are breeding for the first time. The next year, 2013, we only had about 17 larva hatch and those were the ones we sent out today.
Some may say that 17 is a very small number of animals to re-establish a population, but it is very huge to us! Jacksonville Zoo is also breeding these newts and has sent many offspring to Florida for release as well. Again this is just one of many shipments we hope to make this year. The adult newts are already breeding this year and I have almost 100 that have already hatched. These newts are very very tiny when they hatch so we have to grow them up a little here at the zoo before we send them down to Florida. We want to give them the best chance they could have at survival in the wild. I will be smiling all day knowing I've contributed to conservation of a species. Not many keepers get a chance in their careers to release animals into the wild....I now can say that I have.
– Bryan Summerford, Aquarist