Sunday, 28 December 2008

Tropiquaria takes Christmas delivery of baby giant tortoises

FATHER Christmas delivered a present with a difference for one of West Somerset’s leading visitor attractions this year.
Six baby giant tortoises arrived at the Tropiquaria animal centre, at Washford Cross, just in time for Christmas.
The tortoises are currently only about five inches long, but during the next 30 years should grow to be more than two feet long and weigh nearly 16 stone (100 kgs).
They are African spurred tortoises, which are the third largest tortoise species in the world.
In the wild, they are found in a belt across the full width of Africa just south of the Sahara Desert.
They are currently rated in the conservation stakes as ‘vulnerable’.
Tropiquaria director Chris Moiser said there was currently a lot of opinion which suggested the species should be listed under the more worrying classification of ‘endangered’.
Mr Moiser said countries where the tortoises were found were all suffering climate change, some had civil wars going on, and many had rapidly rising populations where the domestic livestock competed with the tortoises for food.
In addition there had been illegal exports for the pet trade.
Mr Moiser said it all meant tortoise populations were becoming fragmented, and fragmentary populations could easily die out.
One recent estimate put the wild population at between 18,000 and 20,000 animals. Mr Moiser said: “So, as well as increasing the number of African species on display in our tropical hall, which was a long-term aim when Jane and I took over Tropiquaria, we have another species that needs nurturing in captivity as an insurance policy for the wild.
“Fortunately, these tortoises, given the right conditions, do breed well in zoos, and Tropiquaria’s six babies all came from a zoo in Yorkshire where they were bred.”
Tropiquaria senior keeper Becky Welsh said that she was delighted the giant tortoise species had been added to the centre’s collection
She said they were all were eating well and did not seem to be upset by the move from Yorkshire.
Quirky fact about the species:
  • It has a role in desert edge ecology of mixing and fertilising the soil through its digging and defecation, respectively
  • It spreads a number of seeds with its dung including the seeds of the date palm from which gum Arabic may be obtained, as well as dates
  • The best known use of gum Arabic is making chewing gum

Our photograph shows Tropiquaria senior keeper Becky Welsh with one of the baby giant tortoises. Photo submitted.

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