Wild Encounters: Radiated Tortoises


The reptiles in this week’s Wild Encounters live so long, they could have been born during the Civil War. Here’s Micah Rumsey getting down on the level of a very endangered animal with Curator of Herpetology, Scott Pfaff.

Micah:  Welcome back to Wild Encounters.  I’m here with Scott once again and we’re in here with some Radiated Tortoises, kind of the smaller cousin of the Galapagos Tortoise.  First of all, tell me about these tortoises right here.

Scott:  Well, these are Radiated Tortoises.  They’re a critically endangered species from the island of Madagascar and the reason they’re endangered now is because people eat them for food and they’re so endangered that we think within the next five years they’ll be extinct in the wild and only exist in captive populations like this.

Micah:  Oh wow, so definitely an animal that you want to help increase the population once again.

Scott:  Absolutely and this particular animal right here and five of her mates out here actually came from a restaurant in Hong Kong in 1982.  They were confiscated by the British authorities.  They were getting ready to go in the soup pot, literally.  They sent those animals here and that the foundation of our herd.  We’ve had as many as 33 Radiated Tortoises in the past.  We have 18 right now.  So this is one of our original animals that we’ve had for 33 years and this is one of her offspring right here.  And these animals can live a very long time.  They’ve been known to live for 175 years.

Micah:  Oh, so just as long as the Galapagos Tortoises.

Scott:  Just as long as the Galapagos Tortoises but much smaller.  This is obviously an adult female.  She weighs about 15 pounds.  Males can weigh about 30, so very similar.  They also live in sort of a dry habitat like some Galapagos Tortoises do.  They can live a very long time.  Unlike Galapagos Tortoises, they only lay two or three eggs and one or two will be fertile.  Galapagos Tortoises can lay a lot of eggs at one time.

Micah:  Well I’m glad they made it here instead of into the soup pot.

Scott:  Me, too.

Micah:  Their name, Radiated Tortoises, you can definitely on this one see why that name is.  Can you kind of explain that?

Scott:  Right, this is…each one of these scales here called a scute is a center dot and lines radiating out from it, so that’s why they’re called Radiated Tortoises…and of course, that’s a camouflage pattern.  They’re laying under a bush and it’s dappled sunlight, it’s very hard to see them.

Micah:  They obviously probably eat some vegetation.  What kind of stuff do these tortoises eat?

Scott:  Well, they eat just about everything.  We’ve only found one plant that they don’t like to eat and that’s azalea flowers and azalea leaves but they eat everything else; bamboo, oak leaves, grass, mushrooms and lots of produce, so we let them eat whatever they want and they do like meat every once in a while in the form of carrion, so if they came across a dead bird or something like that, they will gladly eat that to get some extra protein.

Micah:  Very cool, so a unique animal…an endangered animal.  That’s one of the great parts about a zoo like Riverbanks Zoo.  They’re providing breeding in order to increase these numbers so less turtles in the soup pot…

Scott:  More tortoises in captivity.

Micah:  And more tortoises in the wild, right.  So thank you so much for joining us here on Wild Encounters.