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Galapagos Tortoise - Largest Tortoise

By: Jason Abels – Assistant Director www.tigerhomes.org Animal Sanctuary

The Galapagos Tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus) is by far my all time favorite species of tortoise. Both David and myself have been fortunate to work with them in the past and they are truly remarkable animals! CLICK HERE TO SEE ANIMAL WEBCAMS

Galapagos Tortoise Picture
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As I said earlier while discussing the African Sulcata, most people feel or expect tortoises to be nothing more than dumb “Rocks With Legs”! This could not be further from the truth, especially when Galapagos Tortoises are concerned. This is not to say that all tortoise species are intelligent, just that some are more so than others, at least in human terms and perceptions. These amazing reptiles have been known to come when called and even to know their own names. The Sanctuary's group of Large Sulcata Tortoises also seem to show this intelligence but I am not sure they are just conditioned to this as a behavior vs. actual intelligence? While on the subject of Tortoise Intelligence, a long time friend and herpetologist made this comparison between the intelligence of the Galapagos Tortoise (the World's Largest Tortoise Species) and that of the Aldabra Tortoise (the World's 2nd Largest Tortoise Species - see also side-by-side). He explained that on a particular cold day, he could call an entire group of 15 Galapagos Tortoises from 100 feet or more to walk over to him and into a specially designed heated barn type shelter. On that same night, with a group of long term captive Aldabra Tortoises; he basically had to put each and every animal on a dolly to place them inside the heated enclosure. Then to add insult to injury, the majority of them left the enclosure only to be stuck back out into the cold. So there you have a side-by-side intelligence comparison between tortoise species ;-) Please keep in mind that when I make reference to these animals as intelligent, I am not condoning Pet Galapagos Tortoises. Like any “Exotic Animal”, Galapagos Tortoise Husbandry requires extremely specific and expensive care and should be left to experts and professional Zookeepers.

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The Tigerhomes Animal Sanctuary does not currently house either the Galapagos or the Aldabra Tortoise at this time. Perhaps one day we will offer a Tortoise Cam down the road? Regardless of anthropomorphic interpreted intelligence, I could sit back and observe Large Tortoises roaming and interacting amongst each other in spacious naturalistic habitats all day! Tortoises are definitely the “ZEN” of animal tranquility J.

As stated above, the Galapagos Tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus) is universally known to be the World's Largest Tortoise species. The record for the World’s Biggest Tortoise or should I say “Heaviest Tortoise” is well over 900 pounds with a shell length just shy of 54inches. These animals obviously come from the Galapagos Islands off of the Ecuadorian coast. Charles Darwin made the Galapagos famous with his Theory Of Evolution and his famous Darwin Finches. In fact, the World's most respected Galapagos Tortoise Breeding Facility is located on the Galapagos Islands and is appropriately named the Darwin Research Center Station.

One little known fact that many people may not be aware of is that there are actually a lot of Subspecies of Galapagos Tortoises. In fact, at one time or another (many have gone extinct), there have been at least one described “Subspecies” of Galapagos Tortoise for each individual island in the chain. On the Island of Albemarle for instance there still exists 5 subspecies, each with their own characteristics, primarily size, weight and shell shape. Each subspecies of Galapagos Tortoise is classified as an Endangered Species. It is estimated that there are less then 9000 wild individuals remaining plus an addition 1000 or so Captive Tortoises scattered throughout US zoological facilities. A major factor in managing both Wild and Captive Galapagos Tortoises is their slow maturity rate. Galapagos Tortoise Sexual Maturity rate is slow like their nature. It takes a male 35 years or more before he can produce Viable Sperm. Similarly, it takes the females 20 years to reach their sexual maturity.

Like most reptiles, the sex of a Baby Galapagos Tortoise is determined by the Incubation Temperature of its egg. Most facilities including the Tiger Homes Sanctuary incubate Tortoise Eggs at 86 degrees. This temperature produces more females then males, which makes sense especially when an Endangered Species is concerned. Generally, incubation temperatures above 84 degrees will produce primarily but not all female hatchlings, while temperatures between 84 & 82 produce primarily but not all males. If you look at Pictures Of Galapagos Tortoises of various ages, you will notice that the Baby Tortoises look almost identical to their adult counterpart. This is not always the case as many Baby Turtles or tortoises look nothing like their mature relatives.

Captive Galapagos Tortoises thrive if cared for properly. They require huge grazing areas and lots and lots of space. They need shelter from the sun, rain and wind and a quality diet. A typical Galapagos Tortoise Diet would include loads of fresh Opuntia Cactus Pads, grasses, fruits and vegetables. Like the Sulcata tortoise, the Galapagos are “Eating Machines”. I often refer to the Sanctuary's group of large Sulcata’s as “Solar Powered Lawn Mowers”; if the sun is shining, their mouth is chewing J.

Before I go, I want to leave everybody with one more scary fact concerning this truly amazing Giant Tortoise. The largest concentrated populations of about 3200 wild Galapagos Tortoises live on a daily basis with the potential threat of immediate extinction due to Volcanic Eruptions. Just think about it, in a blink of an eye, a third of an entire species could be wiped out. This is just one reason why Captive Breeding Programs are imperative for all Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.

Once again, David and I along with the entire Tiger Homes team thank you for visiting our Animal Sanctuary. We hope you acquired an interest to protect all animals and wild places. We further invite you to view the Sanctuary’s World-renowned Animal Cams. Take the time to check out our famous White Tiger Web Cams, Lion Web Cams, Lemur Web Cams, and our newest Leopard Web Cams. Without you our mission to instill an interest in wildlife protection could not happen. Please spread the word!

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