Thousands of extinct-in-the-wild snails bred in British zoos have been flown to their new French Polynesian home.
Whipsnade Zoo’s invertebrate specialist Tyrone Capel has this week released 1,600 of the fingernail-sized snails onto the volcanic island of Moorea.
Partula snails, which grow to about 2cm, travelled on a 22-hour-flight packaged in tissue in cardboard tubes.
Many of the species being reintroduced from the Bedfordshire zoo vanished from the wild over 30 years ago.
The Snail Conservation Programme is coordinated by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and French Polynesia’s Direction de l’environnement.
In the 1990s the Rosy wolf snail was released onto the islands in French Polynesia to control the previously introduced giant African land snail.
The moved backfired as the carnivorous predator preferred the Partula tree snails, leaving them exctinct on the islands.
Now total of 2,194 snails have been bred at Whipsnade Zoo, London Zoo, Edinburgh Zoo and Bristol Zoo Project.
“This is the pinnacle of my career,” snail specialist Mr Capel said.
“When I was a child, I dreamt of helping to save a species from extinction – now that dream is becoming a reality.”
More than 24,000 Partula snails have been reintroduced by conservationists onto the French Polynesian islands.
Mr Capel and his team have released more then 1,600 Moorean snails into the forests of Moorea.
The remaining 550 snails will be introduced to the neighbouring islands of Huahine, and Tahiti.
Mr Capel said snail releases were “very slow” but added it was “incredible to watch them gradually propel themselves up into their natural tree habitat”.
“All the hard work getting them there was worth it for that moment.”