Turtles in Pond
IN PHOTO: Turtles of a pond at Athens' national garden try to cool off on a rock in a shade outside the warm water July 3. Southern Balkans blistered under an intense heat wave with temperatures rising as high as 45 degrees Celsius in parts of Greece. Reuters

Animals in zoos are usually placed in enclosures that mimic their native habitat, but not for the endangered Annam leaf turtle (Mauremys annamensis) housed at the Zoological Society of London, or ZSL, London Zoo. Zookeepers chose to embrace their artistic side by giving a different exhibit for the turtles.

The pond turtle exhibit has the area that resembles a restaurant kitchen with the reptile's pool designed as the kitchen sink. The exhibit also displayed pots and pans on the walls. Zookeepers intended to have this kind of design to showcase the turtles' biggest threat: being hunted for its meat.

The Annam leaf turtle exhibit is relatively new in the zoo, and according to the zoo's Reptile House team lead, Ben Tapley, the new exhibit is meant to show visitors the threats these animals are facing. The turtles' new home was not just designed creatively but also provides a suitable habitat for the creatures to swim in and breed, according to the zoo's news release.

The IUCN classifies the Annam leaf turtle, also called Vietnamese pond turtle, as Critically Endangered. These turtles are a favourite delicacy in Asia. Habitat loss and hunting are their biggest threats, sending them on the brink of extinction.

The turtles are characterised by stripes that appear on their faces and necks. Not much is known about the behaviour and biology of the Annam leaf turtle because it is rare; however, captive ones have been studied. The news release reports that every year, an estimated 10 million Vietnamese pond turtles are being hunted for food, medicinal purposes and pet trade in Asia.

ZSL London Zoo contributes to the conservation of the species by carrying out breeding programmes for these turtles. These programmes are becoming important as there is a need to guarantee the "existence of these animals for the future."

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