Breeding hopes for Partula tree snail at Hampshire zoo
Endangered tree snails are being bred in a Hampshire zoo in an attempt to save them from extinction.
Marwell Zoo has become home to a further four species of Partula tree snail, which originate from islands in the Pacific Ocean and are extinct in the wild.
Geoff Read, Marwell's herptile and invertebrates manager, said: "These snails desperately need our help.
"I'm watching a species die out in front of my eyes and we have to work hard to stop them disappearing all together."
The zoo hopes it can breed the snails, which give birth to one baby every three months, so they can be reintroduced to the wild as part of a conservation programme.
The zoo said the International Partula Conservation Programme planned to release the snails into reserves on the islands later this year.
Mr Read said: "It is so important, particularly as we have 50% of the world's population for some Partula species.
"It's a lot of responsibility that has to be taken very seriously."
The tiny snails, which grow up to 2.5cm in length, are being bred in captivity in strict conditions at a temperature of 20-24C with a humidity of about 70%.
Keepers handling the rare snails cannot wear perfume or aftershave as they are extremely sensitive to chemicals.
Their food in captivity is a mixture of cuttlebone, porridge oats, grass pellets, trout pellets and additional vitamin supplements.
The snail once found on islands in the Pacific Ocean became wiped out after another mollusc was introduced in the 1970s.
Mr Read said: "They have gone into precipitous decline in recent years as they have suffered massively from habitat loss and the introduction of a carnivorous snail."