Tails from the Zoo: The Snail Ladies

Two volunteers at the Saint Louis Zoo known as the "Snail Ladies" have helped save an entire species from extinction. Dana Dean recently met them and discovered they've dedicated more than 20 years of their lives to this cause.

You can call Saint Louis Zoo volunteers by their real names Ellen Miller and Donna Mills or by their nickname. "We're the Snail Ladies," said Mills.

For more than 20 years, the Snail Ladies have spent a lot of hours in the insectarium.

Miller said, "Kind of creeps up on you." Mills added, "Yeah, like the snails."

The Snail Ladies help look after the zoo's tiniest creatures.

"I dont think there's anything smaller," said Mills.

And there's probably not anything slower.

Miller said, "Their certainly not as fast as a cheetah."

These are the Partula snails whose native home is on the island of Tahiti.

Miller said, "We feed them, and clean them, and count them and talk to them... Why do you talk to your dog? They become part of you."

But the Partula snails aren't on display, they're kept behind closed doors, since they're too critically endangered to be part of an exhibit. These snails went extinct in the wild decades ago. That's when a number of zoos, including St. Louis, committed to saving these snails.

Mills said, "A lot of people would say what good are snails?"

Miller said, "Snails are part of the web of life. They're not as glamorous as our other animals but it's a job that needed to be done."

And it's a job well done. The Snail Ladies have helped build up the Partula snail population over their 20 years of volunteering. Last year, for the first time, Partula snails raised in St. Louis as well as zoos around the world were sent back to Tahiti. And just this month, even more went home.

Miller said, "It feels very good because we've worked very hard at taking care of these animals."

Bob Merz, Zoological Manager for Invertebrates, said, "These two ladies, year after year, week after week, have come and have donated their time to us and have preserved a species that we are now putting back into the wild."

Going to show that even the smallest creature is important, and every person can make a difference, even if their work is at a snails pace.

 

Some photos provided by: Partula Snail Conservation Programme


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