KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Two critically endangered Arakan Forest Turtles hatched at Tennessee Aquarium. They are the first of their species to hatch at an accredited aquarium or zoo since 2017.

The Arakan Forest Turtles are so rare that only a handful of accredited zoos and aquariums have been able to maintain and breed a population of them, Tennessee Aquarium said. According to a press release, the last of the species that was successfully hatched was a single hatchling at the California-based Turtle Conservancy in 2017.

“It feels pretty good to see these guys hatching,” said Bill Hughes, the Aquarium’s herpetology coordinator. “This species was managed under a Species Survival Plan, but it’s not anymore because so few zoos and aquariums have Arakan Forest Turtles.”

The release say the “precious pair” of turtles hatched on March 23 and March 27, respectively, from a five-egg clutch laid in late November of 2022 in an off-exhibit incubator. Their parents came to Tennessee Aquarium as juveniles from Zoo Atlanta, where they had been hatched.

“I maintain the official records for all of institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that care for this species. I don’t get to do many updates for the book these days, so if nothing else, now I have some data entry to do, and that excites me.”  Hughes added.

The newly hatched turtles are the first Arakan Forest Turtles that have been hatched at Tennessee Aquarium, the release states. Now, they can be seen on the aquarium’s Turtles of the World gallery, where they serve as representatives of their wild brethren to the public, Hughes says.

“This is a big moment for us as an institution,” Hughes said. “Most people don’t know what an Arakan Forest Turtle is, and if you don’t know about something, maybe you don’t care about it.

“By hatching some little, obscure turtle from Myanmar and Bangladesh and going — ‘Look at this interesting little turtle. It’s rare and endangered in the wild’ — these guys act as ambassadors for their species, letting the public know there’s a problem.”

Arakan Forest Turtles are just one of the many Asian turtles whose prospect for survival are “new-moon dim” because of exploitation for food, being collected to supply pet trade, and catastrophic deforestation of their habitat, the release states.

Native exclusively to the bamboo and old-growth forests of the Arakan Mountains in extreme southeastern Bangladesh and western Myanmar, an aquarium release said the species was believed to be extinct when it disappeared from view in 1908 until it was rediscovered at an Asian food market in 1994.