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Aldabra tortoises, commonly cited as Geochelone gigantic, feed in the early morning and again in the late afternoon.

During the heat of the day, they stop eating and rest in shade to avoid overheating.

The Aldabra Village  - 

Giant Aldabra Tortoise 

Today Aldabra reminds us of an ancient era when reptiles ruled the world. Millions of years ago giant tortoises roamed virtually every continent on earth. But by the end of the last ice age, some 10,000 years ago, competition and predation from mammals had driven all the giant tortoises to extinction, except for a few populations on remote oceanic islands of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Scientists believe that the ancestors  of these populations floated from mainland on ocean currents. Even today it is not uncommon  at Aldabra to encounter a hapless tortoise floating at sea - sometimes inside the lagoon, sometimes at sea well beyond the perimeter of the fringing reef.

When humans first settled Seychelles in 1770, giant tortoises inhabited most of the islands of the group. But they were intensely exploited for food, and by the middle of the 19th century, all known wild tortoise populations in the Indian Ocean were extinct except for those on Aldabra. Even the Aldabra populations reached dangerous low levels. Captain Wharton of the Royal Navy, visiting in 1878, reported  that "the reptiles are now very scarce", and that his men were only able to find a single animal "after much trouble and search."

In 1892, the atoll's lessee, claimed that there were more than 1,000 animals but other scientist thought this was a considerable over-estimate. Reports in the early 20th Century suggest the animals were very scarce and absent from where they are now common.

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The Aldabra giant tortoise is mainly herbivorous although it will opportunistically scavenge off the caresses of dead animals, Including those of other tortoises. On Grande Terre much of the staple diet is 'tortoise turf'. a mixture of genetically dwarfed plants that has evolved under constant pressure from tortoise grazing. This complex of some 22 species of grasses, sedges, and herbs only survives where tortoises are present. On other islands where tortoises no longer exist, most of the associated plants also died out, replaced by more vigorous vegetation.

Fortunately, protective measures were implemented for giant tortoises in the late 1800s. They responded well to the protection. A census conducted in 1973-1974, showed that the population had risen to approximately 129,000 animals.

A1997 survey indicated that the population subsequently declined to 100,000, probably in response to environmental damage brought by a combination of tortoise over-population, habitat destruction by feral goats, and drought.

Nevertheless, Aldabra today has the largest population of giant tortoises in the world, many times the size of the only surviving natural population in the Galapos.

Tales of tortoises longevity are often exaggerated but there are recent authenticated cases of captive giant tortoises in the granitic Seychelles living for more than 150 years. In captivity and with no shortage of food, tortoises can grow to extraordinary sizes and weigh more than 300 kilos. Unfortunately, in the harsh environmental conditions at Aldabra tortoises cannot survive for such long periods or grow so large. Dehydration, over-heating, and starvation during extended droughts are constant threats. Tortoises grow slowly at Aldabra and reach maturity after some 16 to 30 years, depending on food availability. Some tortoises make annual migrations from land to coastal feeding grounds during the wet season. But, with rare exceptions, an Aldabra tortoise is likely to spend most of its relatively long life within a distance of only a few kilometers from its birthplace.

After heavy rain, the trudge through the mud begins. At moments like this, the resilience that tortoises must have to survive in this landscape in apparent.

During the dry season giant tortoises can survive without water for considerable periods. As soon as it rains, small depressions in the stony surface fill with water, and tortoises emerge from the undergrowth to drink thirstily.

To enable them to exploit even the shallowest water filled crevices they have evolved the ability to drink through their nostrils.

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The dry Season, in the latter half of the year, can be merciless. Not only is food scarce, but the foliage wilts and provides little shade. The 'cold-blooded' tortoises is unable to regulate its own body temperature. Instead it must seek shelter from the ravages of the midday sun to avoid overheating. During dry season when food is scarce, tortoises crowd together under few available leafy tress waiting patiently until the first rain arrives.  bringing cooler temperatures and a more abundant food supply. At Aldabra, the tropical rain can transform the landscape within a few hours.

Growth rings in the carapace plates can provide an indication of the age of a tortoise when its relatively young. During the rainy season the keratin in the shell grows faster than during the dry season. It is not entirely accurate method, however, because after ten or fifteen years the lines begin to merge, fade and abrade away. In the 1970s, several thousand of these creatures were tagged with titanium disk glued to their shell to keep track of their movements and growth rates.

Aldabra giant tortoises vary greatly in size and shape according to their environment. In the densely populated flat plain limestone of Grande Terre, Competition among tortoises has produced animals that are generally smaller, mature later and lay fewer eggs per clutch than do those on Picard or Malabar. Their lives are in constant jeopardy. In addition the danger posed by dehydration and over heating, they face a rocky terrain that is pitted with deep holes into which they can easily fall and become trapped. 

Reproduction in tortoises begin with noisy affair of mating which takes place during the rainy season of January too May.

The male has a concave plastron, or lower shell, to enable him to mount the female and not fall off. The flat plastron of the female probably enhances her capacity to carry eggs. Eggs are laid from July to October in concealed nests that are difficult to find. Where tortoise population density is high, clutch size tend to be low. On Picard. the vegetation is richer and the population less dense (because of past exploitation) so that a clutch averages nineteen eggs, compared to five eggs on Grand Terre.

Clutch size also increase during years with higher rainfall. The hatchling emerge after 98-148 days.

Thew young tortoise are inconspicuous for the first six years or so of life, until they are big enough to fear no predator. The young have plenty of predators.

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Aldabra Tortoise Size

 

The average weight of an adult male Aldabra tortoise is approximately 550 pounds.

Aldabra Tortoise Life Span

Aldabra tortoises are long lived, some having reached more than 250 years of age. The oldest known Aldabra in captivity at the time of this writing is 183 years old.

Aldabra Tortoise Diet

Aldabra tortoises are mostly herbivores. In the wild, they eat grass, leaves, plants, stems and other tasty weeds. They will also feed on insects and dead animals, even their own kind. In captivity they will eat grass, flowers, cactus pads, all sorts of leafy greens and commercial tortoise food. They also like fruit and melons.

Aldabra Tortoise Behavior and Life History

Aldabra tortoises spend the mornings and early evenings eating, and they spend the hotter parts of the day in the shade or lounging in shallow water holes. They are deceptively quick when they want to be and will actually sprint away if frightened. If they think you have a treat for them they will sprint right to you.

Aldabra Tortoise Housing

Keeping Aldabra tortoises outdoors is usually the best way to house them. Hatchlings up to 2 years old can be housed indoors, but once they get beyond that, they need the great outdoors to roam. For babies up to a year old, tortoise tubs or the equivalent work very well. Use bark or crushed coconut for the bottom of the enclosure. Provide a hotspot of about 90 degrees Fahrenheit at one end of the enclosure with an ambient temperature of about 80 degrees. Mercury vapor lights work well for this, as they provide both UVB and heat all in one fixture.

Aldabra tortoises get large, so as a rule of thumb, the bigger the outdoor enclosure, the better. I house mine in a pen made of ornate cinder blocks. The wall is a bit over two feet tall, and the paddock area is 100 feet by 30 feet. Depending on how many you plan to house, the size of your paddock can vary. Aldabra tortoises do best at temperatures of 80 to 95 degrees. Provide your tortoise house with heat lamps, heat emitters and/or large outdoor-use heat pads (“pig blankets”) to maintain the proper temperature even when the weather outside is cold. The entrance to the house should be large enough for the tortoise to easily enter and exit, and a door is handy to lock the tortoise inside on very cold days or nights. Aldabra tortoises love mudholes, and if you can build one, or a shallow pond for them to soak in, they will be very content. Unlike most tortoises, they are also good swimmers.

Aldabra Tortoise Breeding

Between February and May, females lay anywhere from nine and 25 eggs in a shallow nest. Usually less than half of the eggs are fertile. Females can produce multiple clutches of eggs in a year. After incubating, the tiny tortoises hatch between October and December.

Artificial incubation works best. However, if you incubate the eggs at between 81 to 86 degrees, they will usually hatch in less time, about 90 to 108 days.

Aldabra Tortoise Considerations

Aldabra tortoises get very large and live a very long time. They need lots of space, special habitat setups and a bit of care. They make very rewarding pets as long as you have the time and space to dedicate to their needs. You’ll more than likely have to arrange for their long-term care in advance since they are probably going to outlive you. They are smart, personable and very entertaining. I find that after a long day at work, just sitting outside and watching them eat can calm the nerves of a hectic day.

Aldabra Tortoise

Colour: Black, Brown, Tan
Skin Type: Scales
Size (L): 90cm – 120cm (3ft – 4ft)
Weight: 150kg – 250kg (330lbs – 550lbs)
Top Speed: 0.5kph (0.3mph)
Diet: Herbivore
Prey: Grasses, Leaves, Flowers
Predators: Giant Crab, Humans, Cats, Dogs, Rats, Lizards

2020 Design for our new Ginger Ale bottles. Can You spot the Tortoise?

©2019 by Aldabra Village.