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Oregon Zoo welcomes nearly 300 pounds worth of new tortoises

Oregon Zoo welcomes nearly 300 pounds worth of new tortoises

The Oregon Zoo welcomed nearly 300 pounds worth of African spurred tortoises this week, as two of the behemoths now call the Portland facility home, officials said.

Dozer and Shelly, a male and a female, weigh in at roughly 170 and 90 pounds, respectively. Though their weight and reputation would have most believe the pair are slow in their meanderings, zookeepers say they get around better than one might expect.

« They’re doing really well in their new habitat, » Shelly Pettit, the zoo’s senior keeper for reptiles and amphibians, said in a press release. « They’re very active and surprisingly speedy. Dozer did not get his name by napping. »

 

African spurred tortoises, also known as sulcata tortoises, are the largest species found on the mainland and have been observed at weights up to 200 pounds. The only larger known tortoises are their island cousins from the Galápagos, off the coast of South America, and Aldabra, an atoll in the Indian Ocean.

People often purchase African spurred tortoises as pets, Pettit said, without realizing how big they get or that they typically live in excess of 50 years.

« Pet stores often sell these tortoises when they’re still babies, but they get very large very quickly, » Pettit said. « A hundred pounds is a whole lot of tortoise to care for, and these guys typically live 50 years or more. Most people are not able to make a lifelong commitment to their care, and rescue agencies are overwhelmed trying to find new homes for those that have been abandoned. »

Collection for trade as pets, along with poaching for their shells, has led the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to list African spurred tortoises as « vulnerable. »

That shouldn’t be a problem for Shelly and Dozer, though, as the pair will live out the rest of their days concerned mostly with when the next plate of veggies will be delivered.

—   Kale Williams

kwilliams@oregonian.com