Flat-Tailed Tortoise - Kapidolo (ghost turtle)
By: Jason Abels – Assistant Director www.tigerhomes.org Animal Sanctuary
The Madagascan flat-tailed tortoise
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.
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
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
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.
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.