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Galapagos giant tortoise


Galapagos giant tortoise

Races: There are 14 described subspecies of the Galapagos tortoise of which 11 still exist but only 3 of these are reproducing at a rate that means they will survive in the long term.

Diet: The Galapagos tortoise is a generalized herbivore feeding on grasses, vines, cactus fruit, and other vegetation. In the zoo they eat natural grasses, bananas, apples, papayas and lettuce.

Reproduction and growth: The mating season usually occurs between January and August, when the males stalks about looking for a female. Courting begins with ramming her with the front of his shell and nipping her exposed legs until she draws them in, immobilizing herself.

Conservation: Many of the Galapagos giant tortoises are still exposed to threats. Domestic animals and plants, brought to the islands by settlers and now living wild in the National Park, cause serious problems in the conservation of tortoise populations already decimated by centuries of hunting. Rats, dogs and pigs eat eggs and young tortoises; goats compete with them for food and devastate the vegetation; and donkeys, cattle and horses trample the ground, squashing their nests.

There is also still some tortoise poaching, particularly on the island of Isabela; as many as 120 are thought to have been killed since 1990. When the Galapagos National Park was set up, work began to save the threatened races of tortoise. Eggs collected from the wild were incubated at the Charles Darwin Research Station. Once they hatched, the young tortoises were kept until they were big enough to resist attacks by dogs and rats, and then repatriated on their home islands.

These methods have been remarkably successful and have safeguarded the populations of tortoise on several islands, such as Española. At the same time, eradication campaigns aim to remove the introduced animals which threaten the tortoises in the wild. Several races of tortoise have been safeguarded in this way but much work still remains to be done.

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