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Madagascar Flat-Tailed Tortoise - Kapidolo (ghost turtle)
By: Jason Abels – Assistant Director www.tigerhomes.org Animal Sanctuary

The Madagascan flat-tailed tortoise is known locally as Kapidolo (ghost turtle) and is currently one of the most threatened of all the world's tortoises. Kapidolo is a forest floor-dwelling species found only in a small area of western Madagascar.

The Order Testudines consists of tortoises and turtles and is the second most ancient of all living land vertebrate groups. (265 species of shelled reptiles make up the Testudines.) They are found in most of the world's tropical and temperate regions and oceans and are the longest-lived animals on earth. Tortoises are more terrestrial than turtles which are aquatic or semi-aquatic. Some tortoises have been reported to live as long as 250 years.
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Madagascar Flat-Tailed Tortoise
The Tortoise Family Female and Male

There is a conservation emergency facing the world's tortoises and turtles. The threats they face come from habitat loss and degradation, as well as poaching for the exotic pet trade and Asian exotic food and traditional medicine markets.

Tortoises all have very slow rates of growth and reproduction, and their survival will depend on committed government and private captive breeding and habitat preservation programs.

Of the 4 native Madagascan tortoise species (the radiated, ploughshare, spider and flat-tailed), Kapidolo is currently the most severely threatened with extinction.

Adult females are generally larger and heavier than males, with a carapace length of 6 inches (14-15 cm) and weigh about a pound (400-650g), whereas a typical male's dimensions are 5 inches (12-13cm) and about 3/4 of a pound in weight (250-400g).

The species is only active in the hot rainy season (from December to May). During the cool dry season, animals bury themselves deep under leaf litter or topsoil and become torpid (inactive).

The Kapidolo is among the tortoise species with the lowest productivity. Mating takes place soon after emergence from dormancy. They breed seasonally, and in one season may produce up to 3 clutches laid at 3-4 week intervals, but each clutch consists of just 1 hard-shelled egg. The first egg is laid 1-2 months after the first copulation at the end of the wet season. Incubation is a lengthy process, and hatchlings emerge during the next rainy season, when food is plentiful. It is not known when flat-tailed tortoises reach breeding age, but it has been estimated at 7-12 years.

Hatchlings are about and inch and a half (4cm) long and weigh only about an ounce (15g). They unfold after emerging from the egg, as they have a "hinge" across the middle of their shell, which remains soft for several months until the baby's diet provides the minerals required to build a strong shell.

Young tortoises are roughly circular and grow to reach the more elongated adult shape and size by about their 15th year, then their growth slows. Juveniles are more brightly and distinctly colored than adults, which is thought to make them less subject to predation in their preferred habitat under light canopy cover (older animals seem to prefer dense canopy).

In the wet season they eat whatever foods they come across on the forest floor consuming a variety of fruit, vegetation, fungus and carrion.

The Kapidolo are very hard to study in the wild and notoriously difficult to keep in captivity. Breeding has proved extremely tricky. Captive breeding programs are under way at the Durrell Wildlife Trust in Great Britain and the Knoxville Zoo in the U.S. but habitat preservation is a must for this species to survive.