Five endangered Chinese turtles born in U.S. zoo

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Handout photo of a Chinese big-headed turtle at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Prospect Park Zoo in New York

A Chinese big-headed turtle hatches at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Prospect Park Zoo in New York, in this undated handout photo courtesy of Julie Larsen Maher of the WCS. REUTERS/Julie Larsen Maher of the WCS/Handout via Reuters

(Reuters) - The birth of five Chinese big-headed turtles in a New York City zoo marks the first time the endangered creatures have been born in the United States, zoo officials said.

The two-inch-long hatchlings emerged in November at the Wildlife Conservation Society's Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn, according to a statement released Monday by the society.

"With so many of the world's freshwater turtles and tortoises facing extinction, these hatchlings represent significant progress for the conservation of the species," Denise McClean, Director of the Prospect Park Zoo, said in a statement.

The Chinese big-headed turtles are named for their uncommonly large, green skulls, which are too big to be drawn into their shells like those of other turtles.

The bright green-and-black coloring of these turtles makes them popular pets in their native habitats in China and Southeast Asia, contributing to their endangered status.

The Brooklyn five are part of a global Wildlife Conservation Society Program aimed at saving them.

With a total of 15 Chinese big-headed turtles, New York City is now home to the largest collection in any zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The Wildlife Conservation Society runs New York City's four zoos in Queens, the Bronx, Prospect Park and Central Park, as well as the New York Aquarium.

(Reporting By Elizabeth Dilts; editing by Gunna Dickson)