Friday, August 13, 2010

A Huge Surprise For Biggie And His Girls

Three giant arrivals at Bristol Zoo Gardens

Three giant tortoises have joined the herd at Bristol Zoo Gardens. It is hoped that the new arrivals, a male and two females, named Hogarth, Hissy and Stevie, will boost breeding within the group.

Photo credit Bristol Zoo Gardens

The trio have joined the Zoo’s current giant tortoises – Biggie the male, and his three female companions; Twiggy, Helen and Matilda.

It is thought to be the first time Biggie, the Zoo’s only male giant tortoise, has shared his enclosure with another male, and keepers hope the arrival of Hogarth will create competition for Biggie, and kick-start breeding within the group.

Photo credit Bristol Zoo Gardens

Tim Skelton, curator of reptiles at Bristol Zoo Gardens, has worked with the giant tortoises for 11 years. He said: “The arrival of three new giant tortoises is a great addition to our collection. We needed to increase the group size in order to stimulate breeding behaviour in the herd as part of a co-ordinated captive breeding programme for this vulnerable species.”

But the arrival of baby tortoises could take time, as Tim explains: “When it comes to tortoises, nothing happens very quickly, and Biggie has certainly been taking his time when it comes to breeding. He has been here for 35 years but hasn’t taken much interest in the females that have been here during that time. We are hoping that the arrival of another male, as well as two new females, might motivate him into action!”

Photo credit Bristol Zoo Gardens

The tortoises are Aldabra giant tortoises, the only surviving giant tortoise species from the islands of Aldabra and the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. The species is classified as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and European zoos are involved in a co-ordinated captive breeding programme for the species.

Biggie has been at Bristol Zoo since 1975 after being donated by Bristol University. His exact age is unknown; he could be between 70 and 100 years old, but he still has plenty of breeding potential as giant tortoises can live to be more than 150.

Competition now comes in the form of Hogarth, who is similar to Biggie’s colossal weight of 175kg (27.6 stone) - equivalent to an adult silverback gorilla.

Hogarth, Hissy and Stevie are on a breeding loan from wildlife expert, Nigel Marven, who presented television’s 'Prehistoric Park'. Nigel said he would love to see his and Bristol Zoo's tortoises breed together. “My wife Gill, former HTV presenter, our two-year-old daughter Ella and I are already missing the tortoises terribly, but it will be worth it for the patter of tiny claws!” Nigel said. “Of course we'll be visiting them at the Zoo whenever we can."

He added: “I'm not sure of the exact ages of the three tortoises on loan to Bristol Zoo, but they're at least 25 years old. They were bred in captivity in Zanzibar, not their ancestral home, which is Aldabra.”

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