The native snails in French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean are in trouble. Certain species have suffered extinction due to the introduction of a carnivorous snail species, the rosy wolf snail (Euglandina rosea). Originally from North America, these predatory snails were released on the island to combat the giant African snail (Lissachatina fulica). Intended as a source of food, the giant African snail was introduced to Tahiti in 1967; however, the snails escaped and started devouring crops. To make matters worse, the American predatory snail preferred the smaller, native tree snails to the giant African snails. Massive amounts of tree snails were consumed in a short time. A significant number of the island's native species became extinct.
'Manager of the forest'
The continued existence of the native tree snails is crucial for biodiversity, as they play a role in the eco-system. They serve as ecological indicators and also function as a 'manager of the forest', eating vegetation and cleaning up waste (rotting plants). In addition, they are a key species for evolutionary studies and are part of the culture of the French-Polynesian islands
The goal of the project for the short term is to prevent the extinction of even more species, sub-species and genetically different populations of the existing endemic tree snail species in the Partulidae family. The long-term goal is to maintain and improve the chances of survival for the endemic tree snail species in the Partulidae family in their native range of distribution. The reintroduction of species that have become extinct in the wild through the international breeding programme is also an important goal.
Field research plays a crucial role in the plan of action. For example, the various snail populations are being monitored and research is being conducted to determine why certain populations are more capable of holding their own in the presence of the predatory snail. Other aspects of the project involve habitat protection, genetic analysis of the populations and educating the local population. Part of the latter includes teaching school-age children about their natural and cultural heritage. In addition, there is an international breeding programme in which a number of zoos are participating. Snails are selected from this programme for relocation to Tahiti.
In 2016, ARTIS released Polynesian tree snails in their native habitat in Tahiti for the first time. This species, the Partula nodosa, is considered extinct in the wild.
Support from ARTIS
ARTIS supports the field research financially and participates in the breeding programme in order to deliver snails for repatriation to their natural habitat. ARTIS also acts as an 'annex' of Tahiti as part of the breeding programme. Three species of Polynesian tree snails – Partula nodosa, Partula hyalina and Partula affinis – are being bred at ARTIS and a number of other zoos in Europe and America. ARTIS is responsible for receiving the snails produced in the breeding programmes and submitting them to extensive veterinary examination before they are transported as a group to the wild. ARTIS is one of the few zoos in the world that has experience with caring for these sensitive molluscs.
Organisation: Partulid Global Species Management Programme
Animal: Polynesian tree snail
Location: French Polynesia