These enormous animals are one of the highlights of a visit to Melbourne Zoo.
Aldabra Giant Tortoises are classed as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (on the IUCN ‘red list’). They have a sorry history with humans – in earlier centuries they were captured in large numbers for food, sometimes being kept alive in sea vessels until they were killed for meat. They are currently protected but suffer from poaching and loss of traditional habitat. Predators in the wild including rats and cats seek out tortoise eggs and vulnerable hatchlings. They are also vulnerable to natural disasters such as fire and drought and to climate change.
This is the only remaining giant tortoise species to still survive in the wild. Captive breeding programs are in place to try to increase numbers. A visit to the Zoo is an opportunity to learn more about the plight of Aldabra Giant Tortoises in the wild and be inspired to take action to contribute to the protection and preservation of this species.
They are found on the islands of Aldabra atoll in the Seychelles but have been introduced elsewhere.
They may grow to over 1 metre in length, although females are smaller, with their shell (carapace) being up to 80cm. Adult males weigh up to 250 kg and females up to 150 kg.
They are land animals; they live in grassy plains and scrub and mangrove swamp areas. They eat grass and herbs, leaves and woody stems.
Their ‘shell’ (carapace) is grey to black. A tortoise’s head and limbs are protected by bony scales.
The female may lay up to 25 eggs. Many of the eggs are infertile and they are sometimes crushed by their mother as she lays the eggs, so often only a few eggs survive to hatch.
- Giant Tortoises are the longest lived vertebrate animals
- They may live for more than 150 years. A tortoise called Harriet at Australia Zoo in Queensland was thought to be 176 years old when she died
- Giant Tortoises may live alone or in herds