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Saving a species at Dalton State

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Dalton State College is welcoming its newest members to campus, but they're not students--they're reptiles! Hingeback Tortoise hatchlings were born at the Department of Science, Technology, and Mathematics as part of a project to study the species and save it from extinction.

It's fairly obvious how they got the name.

"It's going to have some kinesis, some movement on the back of the carapace {shell} where it can actually close it as a form of protection," explains herpetologist Chris Manis.

This species won't grow up to be as old or as large as its rock star cousin in the Galapagos that you may have seen in National Geographic, but Manis and his colleagues are paying a lot of attention because its population is nearing extinction.

"This animal is really slow to reproduce," says Manis. "It may take a female 20 years plus to reach sexual maturity."

Also, it's meat is a delicacy in its native Africa countries and in other parts of the world, used for protein and, in some cultures, in healing ailments.

Researchers who have gone to Africa have noticed the depletion of the Hingebacks.

"You would see crates and crates of these tortoises and turtles piled up. Now when they go, they're seeing other species take the place of this animal because these are becoming incredibly hard to find," adds Minis.

Biology professor John Lugthart says some of those other species are also nearing extinction. The only way to restore the populations, he says, is through breeding in captivity. He and Manis received an adult male and female Hingeback about a year ago and the hatchlings were born in late May, 2015. The specimens came from the Turtle Survival Alliance, an international organization.

"Some people approach it from the idea of stewardship, that we have a responsibility, and I think for those of us involved with this, it's probably a combination of all these reasons," says Lugthart.

Whether it's to simply save the species or to balance the ecology overseas, he's excited to be involved.

"It's a great opportunity for us as faculty, our students, our staff, and our community," adds Lugthart.

Often shy as adults, one Dalton State hingeback came out her shell Friday for a first-time mother-child meeting. However, it'll take years to breed more and complete the study--at least another decade--before they can be sent back to their native land. Lugthart remains patient.

Adult Hingebacks weigh from around four to five pounds and live a life span of up to 70 years or so.
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