The San Diego Zoo’s oldest residents, the Galápagos tortoises, proved age is nothing but a number this morning, as they celebrated the Halloween season with a yummy pumpkin breakfast. The senior citizens group—led by Grandma, the oldest member at approximately 130 years old—had a great time chomping down on delicious pumpkins, while animal care staff looked on.
Galápagos tortoises are the giants of the tortoise world, with males weighing more than 500 pounds and females weighing an average of 250 pounds. The San Diego Zoo currently has 13 of these supersize tortoises; nine of them arrived at the Zoo in 1928, and the other four joined the herd later. Animal care staff estimates all of the tortoises, with the exception of one, are over the age of 90, making them among some of the oldest animals on the planet. Staff members say their steady behavior and longevity makes them a favorite of Zoo guests.
“I can’t tell you how many people are absolutely amazed when they come to the exhibit,” said Jonny Carlson, San Diego Zoo reptile keeper. “They’re surprised at just how big or old the tortoises are, and that’s just something you can’t appreciate without seeing them in person.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the Galápagos tortoise as a vulnerable species. Modern conservation efforts have helped increase population numbers after human hunting almost wiped out the species. Today, the tortoises face threats from nonnative species, such as rats, dogs and cats, which eat tortoise eggs and young tortoises. San Diego Zoo Global partners with the Charles Darwin Research Station on the Galápagos Islands to help with breeding and to give the hatchlings a headstart by protecting them until they are old enough to survive on their own.
Zoo visitors can see Grandma and the other Galápagos tortoise seniors at Reptile Mesa in the Discovery Outpost area of the Zoo. Grandma is smaller than her roommates and tends to stay in one location, moving only when she feels it is necessary.
Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.