Keepers are celebrating at West Midland Safari Park following the appearance of a critically endangered teeny-tiny pancake tortoise. The miniscule youngster is about the size of a bottle-top – which is what’s currently being used as a water bowl for the tiny hatchling!

Although the gender of the adorable new arrival is yet to be discovered, it has been named ‘Hartley’ by its keepers. Hartley is the second success of the Park’s breeding programme for pancake tortoises, following the hatching of older half-brother ‘Finn’, who became an internet sensation in 2017 due to his minute size.

Now, two years on, although Hartley’s birth is great news for the Safari Park, the news for wild pancake tortoises isn’t as positive. Deputy Head Keeper of the Discovery Trail, Steve Slater, explained, “When Finn, our first baby pancake tortoise, hatched in 2017, the conservation status of his species was classed as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Since then, the IUCN have reviewed the status and have found that the population of the species is drastically declining, so now list the species as ‘critically endangered’.”

He continued, “The wild population has decreased by 80% in 30 years, mainly due to habitat destruction and over-exploitation for the pet trade. Our tortoises are part of a European Breeding Programme, for which we work with other European zoos in a vow to support tortoise conservation in a regulated and ethical environment. Although the new hatchling is teeny-tiny, Hartley is already a big part of saving his species.”

Hartley’s appearance has been eagerly anticipated by keepers at the Park, as pancake tortoises have a very slow reproductive rate and then the eggs have a very lengthy incubation period – Hartley’s egg was laid in January and took 178 days to develop and hatch!

Pancake tortoises are so-called because of their flat shells. Unlike other tortoises, their shells are flexible, making them lighter and speedier too. Hartley brings the number of pancake tortoises at the Park to five.

Baby animals of Hartley’s size have to be monitored by keepers, so will not be on show until he’s a lot bigger. The adult pancake tortoises can be seen the Reptile House, located in the Discovery Trail, which is included in the group admission charge of £11 for adults, £10 for children aged 3-15 and £10.50 for concessions based on ten or more paying passengers arriving by coach or mini bus. Children under the age of 3 are free. Adventure Theme Park rides are charged extra.

Further information and tickets are available from the Park’s website www.wmsp.co.uk or by telephone 01299 402114. Find out more on the Safari Park’s official Facebook page: www.facebook.com/WestMidSafari