The Akron Zoo recently partnered on a reintroduction of Partula snails to their native French Polynesian Islands. Partula snails are listed as extinct in the wild by IUCN Red List.
Two Akron Zoo staff members, Animal Care Manager Kathleen Balogh and Zookeeper Elizabeth Maille, traveled to Tahiti in mid-September to release 1,100 snails bred at the Akron Zoo. Partula snails play a vital role in the ecological system of the French Polynesian islands through maintaining forest health by feeding on decaying plants. Returning them to the islands helps to restore the islands’ ecology.
Partula snails were declared extinct in the wild in the 1990s. The species was driven to extinction by human intervention through the introduction of invasive species. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), along with other organizations from around the world, stepped in to bring the remaining Partula snails to zoos for breeding to save the species. Detroit Zoo and St. Louis Zoo made huge strides with the species in the first decade, and the Akron Zoo was able to join their efforts in 2000.
The Akron Zoo has been breeding Partula snails since then with great success. The zoo has been actively participating in Partula snail reintroductions, which has seen around 25,000 snails released in the last nine years, making it the largest reintroduction of a species extinct in the wild. The snail introduction site in Tahiti has been cleared of all invasive species, making it safe to release the snails.
This trip marked the first time the Akron Zoo has been able to physically participate in the release of the Partula snails. During the trip, Balogh and Maille were able to exchange husbandry tips with other snail experts from around the world.
“This experience was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Balogh. “Being able to work with several institutions across the world in the huge effort was amazing. In a few years, we’re hoping that Partula snails can be reclassified as no longer extinct in the wild.”
“I am so proud of the work done by our Akron Zoo snail team,” said Doug Piekarz, president and CEO at the Akron Zoo. “Their hard work and dedication to these snails is apparent through the thriving of the species here at the zoo. Partula snails might be small, but bringing them back from extinction is making a huge impact for our natural world! Always remember that at the Akron Zoo, big and small – we care for them all!”