White-blotched river stingrays at Hellabrunn Zoo
For the past three years, Hellabrunn Zoo has been responsible for coordinating the monitoring of white-blotched river stingrays in zoos and aquaria across Europe. The zoo also successfully breeds this South American stingray species on a regular basis. In a few days time, five of the white-blotched river stingrays born at Hellabrunn will be transferred from the zoo to Berlin Zoo's aquarium.
Days before their journey begins, the five Munich-born white-blotched river stingrays will be prepared for their transport north. "To ensure the animals do not get stressed, they will be allowed to become used to the darkness of the transport crates beforehand," explains aquarium curator Frank Müller. The transport crates are filled with pure oxygen and water, which allows the fish to stay in them for up to 24 hours. "We have previously transported white-blotched river stingrays from Munich to Osnabrück, Zaragoza and Bern, and the animals have always arrived in good shape."
All in all, there are currently 15 white-blotched river stingrays at Hellabrunn Zoo, but most are kept in a behind-the-scenes aquarium. Originally from South America, the white-blotched river stingray is an endemic species: it occurs in the wild exclusively in and around the Xingu River basin, a tributary of the Amazon River, in Brazil. Its distinctive pattern of white dots on a black circular-like body makes it one of the most unique rays. The white-blotched river stingray can grow up to 60 cm in diameter and has a tail barb, which it uses to hurt predators. When threatened, the ray lashes its tail like a whip in order to thrust the venomous barb as deep as possible into the flesh of the approaching predator. Like all freshwater stingrays, the white-blotched ray is viviparous - the female gives birth to live young. Babies are born fully formed, which means that despite their small size they are able to find their own food and the female does not have to spend much time caring for their young.
Although the white-blotched river stingray is not presently listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Hellabrunn's aquarium curator Frank Müller, was commissioned by the EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) to monitor the unique stingray. "Monitoring is the first step for a European studbook and serves to maintain an overview of the population and offspring in zoos and aquaria in Europe," adds Müller. "The monitoring has now been successful completed - we hope that a studbook will be compiled in the near future."
Apart from monitoring, which only serves to list all the animals of a species in European zoos, the EAZA network also includes the European Studbook (ESB) and the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP). While the EEP focuses on the preservation of genetic diversity of individual species through binding recommendations of breeding couples by the species coordinator, the ESB only provides transport and breeding recommendations, which are not obligatory. All animals listed in a studbook are given a lifelong studbook number. Furthermore, all data relevant to the studbook, such as sex, age, parents and offspring, is recorded as far as possible. While in the beginning studbooks were mainly compiled for mammals and birds, there are now more and more being compiled for reptiles, amphibians and fish species. Today, almost all animals in German zoos are already bred in a zoo environment. The goal of the zoo community is to create self-sustaining zoo populations for preferably all species through coordinated cooperation.
In addition to monitoring the white-blotched river stingray, Hellabrunn Zoo is also the coordinator of the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) and the International Studbook (ISB) for the drill, with special responsibility for the zoo population of this highly endangered West African primate species. Altogether, Hellabrunn is involved with 27 studbooks (ESB) and 35 European Endangered Species Programmes (EEP).