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Cincinnati Zoo ... Galápagos Tortoise | by Connie Lemperle
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Cincinnati Zoo ... Galápagos Tortoise

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Galápagos Tortoise


Geochelone nigra microphyes


With few natural predators and competitors for food, the Galápagos tortoise grew over time into the largest turtle in the world. Once a popular food source for sailors, the tortoise is now protected from hunting. Today, introduced predators are the problem. Dogs, cats, and rats eat the tortoise’s eggs and livestock compete for food.


On his famous voyage to the Galápagos Islands in 1835, Charles Darwin noted a distinct physical difference among the shells of Galápagos tortoises on different islands. Tortoises that fed primarily on ground vegetation had large domed shells. Tortoises that fed on above-ground plants had saddle-shaped shells with a curved front that enabled them to stretch their necks up higher. This observation informed his theory of evolution by natural selection, which has become the cornerstone of modern biological science.

As one of the longest-lived animals, a Galápagos tortoise can lives 150 years or more.

The Galápagos tortoise sleeps about 16 hours a day.

Survive a year without eating or drinking? The Galápagos tortoise can do it!

Made up of honeycomb structures, the tortoise’s shell is much lighter and easier to carry than if it were solid.




Seven, 4-year-old giant Galapagos tortoises will be introduced to their new outdoor exhibit on Thursday, May 24, at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. The Galapagos Tortoise exhibit was funded in part by the generous support of Thomas C. Theobold and the Theobold Family in memory of the late Dr. Jerome (Jerry) Theobold, the Zoo’s first staff veterinarian. This is the first walk-through reptile display for the Cincinnati Zoo.


Located outside of the Zoo’s historic Reptile House, the new interactive exhibit is part of the Zoo’s ongoing effort to get visitors closer to animals, inspiring every visitor with wildlife every day. Guests will be invited to gently touch the endangered tortoises during a daily encounter, which begins at 1:15 p.m. and lasts for approximately 45 minutes.


“The giant Galapagos tortoise is really an incredible species and Zoo guests are going to get to watch these young ones grow for many years to come,” said Thane Maynard, Executive Director of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. “Charles Darwin himself used the information he gathered from observing this species to form his theory of evolution by natural science. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.”


Additionally, a statue of a standing giant Galapagos tortoise (slightly larger than life-sized) will be erected near the new exhibit. The statue will serve as a great reference for Zoo visitors as they watch the Zoo’s herd of juvenile tortoises develop.


The giant Galapagos tortoises, which can live over 150 years currently weigh approximately 20 pounds but can get up to and sometimes more than 600 pounds in their lifetime. The Zoo’s tortoises came to Cincinnati in time to help celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth (February 12, 1809). They are the offspring of adults held at the Gladys Porter Zoo (Brownsville, Texas) which has successful breeding programs for several tortoise species.


To date, only 11 subspecies of Galapagos tortoises remain. Hunting, especially by early sailors, introduced predators such as rats and cats, and food competitors such as goats decimated countless tortoises and still threaten existing populations. All remaining subspecies are considered to be endangered. Today, the Galápagos National Park and Charles Darwin Research Station (established in 1969) work to restore native habitats, eliminate invasive species, and breed tortoises to bolster wild population.

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Taken on August 2, 2012