Sparsholt College is one of only four zoos and collections nationally to successfully breed, in the last 12 months, a species of lizard called the Solomon Islands skink. The College has kept the species since 2010 but it wasn’t until 2014 that a compatible mate was found. This birth represents the first time the herptile team at the College has managed to breed the lizards. There are currently 12 BIAZA (British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums) collections that hold the species in the U.K.
The College has a proven track record of breeding reptiles, including a number of other lizards, most notably the critically endangered Turquoise dwarf gecko. Many of the species kept are part of international breeding programmes and are threatened with extinction in the wild. As well as lizards, the College regularly breeds a number of endangered amphibian species such as Kaiser newts from Iran and golden mantella frogs from Madagascar.
Ross Miller, an Animal Management instructor at the College explains why the team decided to breed the skinks and the value of the experience for students studying one of the many animal management courses on offer: “Solomon Island skinks illustrate pair bonding between adults and live in extended family groups. The babies live alongside the parents and it’s unusual to see this kind of family relationship in reptiles”.
Animal and zoo management courses at Sparsholt are taught by industry experts and the department was rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted in 2014. The College has an unrivalled collection of animals and species (1280 animals from nearly 200 species) in its purpose built Animal Management Centre and is one of the few colleges in the country with a Zoo Licence.
The Solomon Island skink is the world’s largest skink, growing to a length of 72 centimetres. These lizards are otherwise known as monkey tailed skinks because they use their long, prehensile tails to help move around in the tree canopy. They give birth to live young after a gestation period of up to eight months and normally all births are single babies. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) states the skinks are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but may become so unless trade and habitat loss are controlled.