30 Jan 2018

Chipper new tortoise arrival has zoo staff smiling

11:53 am on 30 January 2018

Auckland Zoo has welcomed its first Galapagos tortoise hatchling - making it only the second zoo in Australasia to breed the species.

The Galapagos tortoise hatchling is the offspring of first time-parents aged in their 40s.

The newcomer is tiny now, but could reach 250kg. Photo: Supplied / Auckland Zoo

The new arrival is to first-time parents, mother Chippie, 47, and father Smiley, 46, who came to Auckland from Honolulu Zoo in 1983.

Though Galapagos tortoises are the world's largest breed, the hatchling weighed just 60 grams when it was born.

Males can reach to 250kg and females 150kg and can live for 150 years.

A ranger feeds giant tortoises at Galapagos National Park in Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

A ranger feeds giant tortoises at Galapagos National Park, Ecuador. Eleven different species of giant tortoises remain in the Galapagos; down from 15 when Darwin first arrived. The total population is estimated at 15,000. Photo: AFP / Galapagos National Park

Chippie laid eggs in the ground over four months ago and zoo staff excavated them for incubation to give them the best chance of survival.

The newcomer hatched from the billiard-ball sized egg on 30 December.

The sex of the new hatchling won't be known for a few years.

Zoo curator of ectotherms and birds Richard Gibson said the slow maturing reptiles were renowned for taking their time, so the zoo was delighted they'd finally bred.

The zoo redeveloped its tortoise enclosure two years ago providing it with a larger, climate-controlled indoor area, giving gave it the capacity to keep two males separately,

That enabled the return of its second male, Willy, from Ti Point Reptile Park - and provided some rivalry.

Auckland Zoo's Richard Gibson holding the Galapagos tortoise hatchling.

Auckland Zoo's Richard Gibson holding the Galapagos tortoise hatchling. Photo: Supplied / Auckland Zoo

"Willy's return has most certainly been a great stimulant to Smiley as a male competitor, and we hope to see increasing success with higher rates of fertility among future clutches," Mr Gibson said.

Habitat destruction and exploitation by early sailors visiting the Galapagos Islands nearly wiped out the species, he said.

"Thanks to incredible and ongoing efforts to rid the Galapagos Islands of invasive species and successful captive breeding and release programmes - just as we're doing on islands all around New Zealand to help so many of our own endemic species - the Galapagos giant tortoise species are slowly recovering."

Taronga/Western Plains Zoo in Australia is the only other zoo in Australasia to breed Galapagos tortoises.

Auckland Zoo expects the new arrival will be on view to the public in a few weeks.

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