The team at Auckland Zoo are celebrating the arrival of four tiny Galápagos tortoises. Arriving on 26 January, the offspring of 50-year-old mum Chippie and 49-year-old dad Smiley, marks a major milestone for the zoo, as the most tortoises hatched from a single clutch to date.
The arrival comes after a 110-day incubation and signifies a major step forward for the zoo. “We have this very exciting upward turn that we hope reflects the sweet spot we’ve hit after years of incrementally refining our husbandry for this species,” says Auckland Zoo’s Ectotherms team leader, Don McFarlane.
While the endangered reptile is the world’s largest tortoise, the tiny hatchlings weighed in between just 74-88 grams. Galápagos tortoises can live up to 180-years-old and are expected to grow 2,500 – 4000 times in body mass (dad Smiley weighs in at a massive 241kgs).
McFarlane says that extra care will go into ensuring the hatchlings have a healthy development over the next few decades. “Everything about these slow-maturing reptiles takes time, that these are famously challenging tortoises to rear, and that success will only truly come when these hatchlings reach adulthood in 20-40 years – it’s a long game!”
Now seven-weeks-old, the hatchlings remain under close care for now. Visitors can expect to see the four tortoises in the coming months when they join their parents and other two adults in the Galápagos tortoise house.
Galápagos tortoises have faced over-exploitation for food, decimation by introduced predators and habitat loss, says Auckland Zoo’s Head of Animal Care and Conservation, Richard Gibson.
“Amazing efforts to protect and restore the Galápagos’ wildlife and wild places by organisations like the Galápagos Conservancy and Charles Darwin Foundation and their countless supporters – through the likes of intensive captive breeding-for-release programmes for tortoise species – are seeing these reptiles and other threatened Galápagos species, slowly recovering.
“The opportunity for Kiwis to experience these absolutely extraordinary giant reptiles here at Auckland Zoo – for some families over generations, is incredibly special. As a wildlife conservation organisation, we put enormous resources into helping conserve both native wildlife throughout Aotearoa and exotic species all over the world, including in the Galápagos Islands. None of this would be possible without our visitors.”