The fourth season for the Rafetus breeding project has come to an end, without the results that we were all hoping for. It seems that out of the 188 eggs laid, none were actually fertilized. This has put all of us on the project in a bit of a predicament wondering how to proceed next year (note I said how not if. There is no question in any of our minds that the project will continue, so long as we have these individuals and if there’s the possibility of other individuals out in the wild).
Depsite the fact that we didn’t get any Rafetus hatchlings, progress was still made and questions were answered. Concerns about the efficacy of the incubators and incubation methods were put to rest when we successfully hatched more than a dozen red-eared sliders under various incubation conditions. We also obtained 54 Chinese softshell (Pelodiscus sinensis) hatchlings from a local farm to rear in our large breeding tank. By doing so, the zoo staff were able to learn how to care for softshells and try different feeding regimens to determine what works best.
There were new challenges to be faced this year as well. While stray cats and weasels are a known problem at the zoo, this was the first year we saw the weasels enter the Rafetus enclosure. I was quite concerned because they could pose a threat to the eggs and potential hatchlings. We therefore reinforced the fencing placed around each nest (standard protocol to keep out any unwanted visitors) and that seemed to solve the weasel problem. Although they were still entering the enclosure, they could not get at the nests or the eggs.
Even though we try to cover all our bases, there are always things that we cannot predict and subsequently prepare for. Towards the end of August, Suzhou experience several severe thunder and lightning storms. No one (human or animal) was hurt but the closed-circuit camera system we had installed was ruined. The installation company has taken all the cameras and computer back to their factory to determine the extent of the damage and we are currently awaiting their final report before we can decide if the entire system needs to be replaced or if we just need to replace some of the parts.
Soon, all of the collaborators on the project will meet again to wrap up this season and discuss options for next year. Despite all the setbacks we’ve faced to date, all are hopeful that the “Year of the Rafetus” will be just around the corner.