Auckland Zoo welcomes the first Kiwi Galapagos tortoise

Congratulations to Chippie and Smiley, the Westmere-based Galapagos tortoises that, after just 34 years together, have this week successfully hatched a bundle of joy the size of a billiard ball - the first ever New Zealand-born Galapagos tortoise. 

The couple met back in 1983, when they moved from Honolulu to Auckland Zoo, but as with many modern couples, they were in no hurry to breed. 

They waited until they reached 47 and 46 respectively, before committing themselves to parenthood - still young in Galapagos tortoise years.

"These long-lived, slow-maturing reptiles are renowned for taking their time, so we're delighted that they've finally bred," says Auckland Zoo's curator of Ectotherms (a 'cold-blooded' animal, in incorrect layman's terms) and Birds, Richard Gibson.

Galapagos tortoises live to about 150 years. Females grow to 150kg and males to 250kg. 

The sex of this tortoise won't be known for several years.

Charles Darwin first encountered the Galapagos tortoise when he visited the islands in 1835. There were originally 15 species of tortoise, but only 11 remain.

The tortoises were almost wiped out by human exploitation for food and trade, predators introduced to the Galapagos Islands, such as rates and pigs, and habitat destruction by goats. 

From the 17th-19th centuries, more than 100,000 were taken by seafarers to live on their ships, before killing them for food. The species remains highly threatened.

Auckland Zoo says captive breeding programmes and predator eradication on the Ecuadorian islands are helping to bring this species back.

They are notoriously slow breeders, reaching sexual maturity at somewhere between 20-30 years. 

So tune back in a few decades to see if Junior is doing his species proud.



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