Euro zoos clamour for endangered species at Cornish college

Date: 
8 Nov 2017
Details: 

Zoos across Europe are stampeding to a college in Cornwall, which is the only place in the continent to successfully breed an endangered species of millipede.

The Seychelles giant millipede, or Seychelleptus seychellarum, which is classified as ‘endangered’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, is thriving in the animal management unit of Duchy College Rosewarne.

Lucy Bennetts, Head technician at the College, and the person behind the success of the breeding programme, explained that the millipede has “a very slow reproductive cycle”.

“Over our 10 years with the millipedes we have had three cycles where youngsters have been born and hadn’t had any babies in about three years,” she continued.

“The average lifespan is about seven years, but they take about three years to reach maturity. These are the youngsters from three years ago who are now mature and starting to reproduce. It will take several months until the eggs hatch. We are basing this information on other species as there is no research on the Seychelles species.”

The College is attempting to address this lack of knowledge, and the animal management technicians have taken it upon themselves to research the breeding group.

“One of our technicians Sam has taken home a few eggs and baby millipede to observe how they hatch, grow and develop,” Lucy explained.

“We would like to let these youngsters rear on and then we can hopefully distribute them to zoos to create their own breeding communities.”

Newquay Zoo was given some millipedes by the College three years ago.

Gareth O’Dare, Senior Tropical House Keeper at Newquay Zoo, said “I think it’s a fantastic achievement for the college to have bred such a rare invertebrate and a real testament to the skill of animal care staff like Lucy Bennet”.

“There has been a resurgence on interest in the species with collections across the UK as far as Scotland looking to work with and breed this species. We have also had interest from zoos in Europe at one of the EAZA meetings (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria),” he continued.

Millipedes are detrivores and play an important role in nature filling a similar role to earth mulching down organic matter into the soil and recharging it full of nutrients.

“Without millipedes soil would be of a poorer quality; certain plants wouldn’t grow and the animals that feed on and live in or around those plants would lose out on the benefits of those plants be it as housing/nesting or as a food source,” Gareth explained.

“Key stone species like millipedes would effect a wide range of species further up the food chain if they were to be wiped out from an area.”

For more information on the range of courses available through Duchy College visit www.duchy.ac.uk or call 0330 123 4784.

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