British zoos are rescuing snails and are planning to populate the Portuguese islands. This is the first successful experience in captive breeding of such molluscs.
Two species of Madeira land snails were found on the Desertas Islands: about 300 of them remain. These creatures managed to survive despite the aggression from mice and goats, which were brought to the islands by Portuguese sailors in the 1400s.
The size of the young of these snails is about the same size as the crown of an eagle on a 1-ruble Russian coin, and 60 of these tiny creatures were sent by plane to two British zoos. The new conditions were to the taste of the mollusks: their population reached 1200 individuals. This is the first time in the history of this species when specialists have managed to breed such snails in captivity. The experience of saving other rare invertebrates helped.
But the increase in population is only the first step in the recovery plan, which is supported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the government of the island of Madeira (which includes the Desertas archipelago). After the discovery, both species of snails Discula lyelliana and Geomitra grabhami were included in the list of critically endangered animals.
The ancient Romans called Madeira the “Purple Islands” because they got an expensive dye from snails. And now the islands of the region, in particular Desertas, are a protected nature reserve, recognized as a habitat for rare invertebrates, birds and reptiles. They will also try to settle the snail population on the archipelago: “This project is a desperate attempt to protect a unique species of snails. Now they have to live genetically isolated in small shelters, fleeing aggressive mice, which should not be on the islands at all. ” This is how Dinarte Teixeira, a malacologist (specialist in shellfish) at the Institute of Forests and Conservation of Madeira, describes the situation.
Experts are trying to take control of the population of mice in the archipelago, while restoring and enriching the habitat. Some of the snails from zoos will also fly here – they will be settled on islands untouched by people, where there are no predators.
Here, the land snail population will become part of an international breeding program aimed at maintaining the species in a sustainable state. And also tiny mollusks will help to work out the scheme of rescue of endangered species and not only invertebrates.