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Scientists Reintroduce Snails to Polynesian Islands

In what’s believed to be the largest-ever release of any species that is extinct in the wild, scientists just reintroduced critically endangered Polynesian tree snails to the French Polynesian Islands. That's good news because by eating fungi and decaying plants, they help keep the forest healthy.

A Polynesian tree snail
Credit: Zoological Society of London

The snails were nearly wiped out in the 1960s after French authorities brought two invasive snail species to the islands - one as a food source (the French love snails cooked in garlic!), which escaped captivity and multiplied, destroying the local ecosystem.

For the past three decades, scientists and conservationists have been working at zoos in the UK and the US to keep them from disappearing. They’ve been slowly reintroducing them over the past nine years, but the most recent reintroduction of more than 5,000 was a significant milestone in conservation.

Before they made their big flight to the South Pacific, the snails were adorned with dots of red, UV-reflective paint to help conservationists find them in the dark and to better enable them to keep track of progress.

The snails are less than an inch in size, and while they're small and maybe not the cutest creatures to look at, the good news is that they have a huge impact on the local ecosystem. By eating fungi and decaying plants, they help keep the forest healthy.

It's also an encouraging reminder to protect, nurture, and care for endangered species - because hope is never lost. “With nature across the world increasingly under threat, these little snails represent hope for the world’s wildlife,” says Paul Pearce-Kelly, curator of invertebrates for the Zoological Society of London.


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