Tort-ally wild new habitat at Werribee Open Range Zoo

11 August 2023

Eight tortoises at Werribee Open Range Zoo are shell-ebrating the completion of a newly renovated habitat.

The Zoo’s five Leopard tortoises and three Bell’s Hinge-back tortoises were introduced to their new digs for the first time this week and were quick to explore the upgraded creature comforts.  

Werribee Open Range Zoo Life Sciences Manager – Natives, Jacinda Goodwin, said the scale of the habitat is one of several impressive elements. 

The newly renovated tortoise habitat is three times larger than their previous indoor home,” Ms Goodwin said. “This gives us the ability to provide various substrates and vegetation, as well as access to a lush, landscaped outdoor area.

Their indoor habitat includes a new pond, new basking areas, heat pads, heaters and UV lamps, plus my favourite feature, an area specifically designed for only the smaller Bell’s Hinge-back tortoises to enter. 

As well as providing a haven for the smaller tortoises, which are half the size of their habitat mates, the additional dwelling allows zoo keepers to customise the temperature of the basking areas to meet the individual needs of each species.  

“We have also included features to encourage species specific behaviours, including a deeper mulch area to promote natural resting behaviours and an increase in the available space for basking,” Ms Goodwin said. 

As an ectothermic species, tortoises rely on the sun and their environment to regulate their body temperature.  

Leopard tortoises are native to the savannahs of eastern and southern Africa, while Bell's Hinged-back tortoises are native to central Africa.   

Visitors to Werribee Open Range Zoo can see the two tortoise species in the Ranger Kids building, which also features an immersive play area for children.