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Ellesmere Port aquarium provides home for smuggled tortoises

Ellesmere Port aquarium provides home for smuggled tortoises

A group of smuggled African tortoises are being given weekly weigh-ins by weight watching keepers at the Blue Planet Aquarium, Cheshire Oaks.

The dozen African spurred tortoises were seized by Customs as babies in 2014 after being illegally imported in to the UK.

Now around 18 months old, the tortoises, which can live for more than 70 years and grow over 80cms in length, are being individually weighed to ensure they are all fit and healthy.

A group of smuggled African tortoises are being given weekly weigh-ins by a weight watching keeper at the Blue Planet Aquarium, Cheshire Oaks. On the scales. Pic supplied by Blue Planet

Blue Planet Aquarium herpetologist Luke Atkinson said: “In the next few years our tortoises will do a lot of growing and should be fully grown by the age of 10.

“At the moment they are all roughly 10cms long. Our smallest tortoise is currently weighing in at 88g with our largest weighing 197g.

“Adults can weigh anywhere between 45 to 65kg, sometimes even heavier.”

Luke measures and weighs each tortoise on a weekly basis to check they are not losing or gaining too much weight.

A group of smuggled African tortoises are being given weekly weigh-ins by a weight watching keeper at the Blue Planet Aquarium, Cheshire Oaks. Herpetologist Luke Atkinson runs rhw rule over one of the creatures. Pic supplied by Blue Planet
Herpetologist Luke Atkinson runs the rule over one of the turtles

“I also take the opportunity to give them a general health check, looking over their shell and limbs as well as checking their eyes, nostrils and mouth,” he added.

“It’s not always easy to tell them apart so I move each of the tortoises to a separate pen after their check-up to ensure I don’t end up weighing the same one twice.”

The African spurred tortoise, which does not hibernate, is the third largest tortoise in the world after the giant Galapagos and Aldabra tortoises. It is the largest of the continental land species.

Native to the Sahara Desert, African spurred tortoises in the wild dig burrows to shelter from the harsh environmental conditions creating extensive tunnel systems.

The spurred tortoise is extremely strong and is capable of moving relatively large objects, including rocks and stones, with ease.

Male tortoises can be quite aggressive and will often ram into each other and attempt to flip their opponents onto their backs.

The species is officially designated as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.