Aldabra Giant Tortoise

Aldabra Giant Tortoise

name = Aldabra Giant Tortoise
status = VU
status_system = iucn2.3

image_width = 200px
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Sauropsida
ordo = Testudines
subordo = Cryptodira
familia = Testudinidae
genus = "Geochelone"
species = "G. gigantea"
binomial = "Geochelone gigantea"
binomial_authority = Schweigger, 1812
The Aldabra Giant Tortoise ("Geochelone gigantea"), from the islands of the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles, is one of the largest tortoises in the world. This species is widely referred to as "Geochelone gigantea" but is now placed in the genus "Dipsochelys" (or sometimes in the invalid genus "Aldabrachelys") as "Dipsochelys dussumieri".

Anatomy and Morphology

The carapace is a dark blue or black color with a high domed shape. It has stocky, heavily scaled legs to support its heavy body. The neck of the Aldabra Giant Tortoise is very long, even for its great size, which helps the animal to exploit tree branches up to a meter from the ground as a food source.

Similar in size to the famous Galapagos Giant Tortoise, its carapace averages 120 cm (47 inches) in length. The average weight of a male is around 250 kg (551 pounds), but one male at the Fort Worth Zoological Park weighs over 360 kg (793 pounds). Females are generally smaller than males, with average specimens measuring 90 cm (35 inches) in length and weighing 150 kg (330 pounds).

Range and Distribution

The main population of the Aldabra Giant Tortoise resides on the islands of the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles. The atoll has been protected from human influence and is home to some 152,000 giant tortoises, the world's largest population of the animal. Another isolated population of the species resides on the island of Zanzibar. The tortoises exploit many different kinds of habitat including grasslands, low scrub, mangrove swamps, and coastal dunes.

Ecology and Life History


A peculiar kind of habitat has evolved due to the grazing pressures of the tortoises: "tortoise turf," a comingling of 21 species of grasses and herbs. Many of these distinct plants are naturally dwarfed and grow their seeds not from the tops of the plants, but closer to the ground to avoid the tortoises' close cropping jaws.

As the largest animal in its environment, the Aldabra tortoise performs a role similar to that of the elephant. Their vigorous search for food fells trees and creates pathways used by other animals.

Feeding Ecology

Primarily herbivores, Aldabra Tortoises will eat grasses, leaves, and woody plant stems. They occasionally indulge in small invertebrates and carrion, even eating the bodies of other dead tortoises. In captivity, Aldabra Giant Tortoises are known to enjoy fruits such as apples and bananas as well as compressed vegetable pellets.

There is little fresh water available for drinking in the tortoises' natural habitat, therefore they obtain most of their moisture from their food.

The Aldabra tortoise has two main varieties of shell. Specimens living in habitats with food available primarily on the ground have a more dome-shaped shell with front extending downward over the neck. Those living in an environment with food available higher up off the ground have a more flattened topped shell with the front raised to allow the neck to extend upward freely.


Aldabra tortoises are found both individually and in herds, which tend to gather mostly on open grasslands. They are most active in the mornings when they spend time browsing for food. They dig underground burrows or rest in swamps to keep cool during the heat of the day.

While they are characteristically slow and cautious, they are capable of appreciable speed, especially when tempted with a treat. They are also known to attempt perilous acrobatic feats, rising precariously on their hind legs to reach low branches. They risk death by tipping onto their backs and being unable to right themselves.

They are also excellent swimmers, being naturally buoyant. This factor has allowed the spread and eventual speciation of many kinds of related tortoises across the Indian Ocean.

The tortoises are not domestic or tame, but they are remarkably indifferent to the presence of humans. They do not seem to have any fear of people; some even seek them out for attention. Some like to have their heads patted, others enjoy having their necks scratched where they meet their plastron.

Life History

at 176, a Galapagos giant tortoise. Esmeralda is an Aldabra Giant Tortoise.

In Captivity

The Aldabra tortoise is recently becoming more available in the pet trade. The price still makes them somewhat of an exclusive animal, costing between $1,000 and $20,500 depending on size as of 2006. Care for these tortoises requires a good deal of commitment. They are very powerful as adults, and can be destructive in a typical suburban setting; capable of ramming through fences and doors. Fairly expensive accommodations are necessary to contain these tortoises and keep them at a comfortable temperature throughout the year (80-95 F).

The story of a 130-year-old Aldabra giant tortoise and a baby hippopotamus who became friends in a wildlife sanctuary in Kenya has been featured in the Owen and Mzee series of children's books in 2006. [Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, Paula Kahumbu. "Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship". ISBN 0439829739]


Aldabra Giant Tortoises reach sexual maturity when they attain about half their final size. It seems that reaching sexual maturity is determined by size, not by age.

Between February and May, females lay between 9 and 25 rubbery eggs in a shallow, dry nest. Usually less than half of the eggs are fertile. Females can produce multiple clutches of eggs in a year. After incubating for about 8 months, the tiny, independent young hatch between October and December.

In captivity, oviposition dates vary. Tulsa Zoo maintains a small herd of Aldabra tortoises and they've reproduced several times since 1999. One female typically lays eggs in November and again in January, providing the weather is warm enough to go outside for laying. The zoo also incubates their eggs artificially, keeping two separate incubators at 81 degrees F and 86 degrees F. On average, the eggs kept at the latter temperature hatch in 107 days.


The Aldabra Giant Tortoise has an unusually long history of organized conservation. Albert Gunther of the British Museum, who later moved to the Natural History Museum of London (enlisting Charles Darwin and other famous scientists to help him) worked with the government of Mauritius to establish a preserve at the end of the 19th century. The related, but distinct, species of giant tortoise from the Seychelles islands (Seychelles giant tortoise "Dipsochelys hololissa" and Arnold's Giant Tortoise "D. arnoldi") are the subject of a captive breeding and reintroduction programme by the Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles.

ources and resources

*Bourn, D. "Reproductive Study of Giant Tortoises on Aldabra". J. Zool., London, Vol. 182, 1977, pp. 27-38.
*Chambers, Paul. "A Sheltered Life: The Unexpected History of the Giant Tortoise". John Murray (Publishers), London. 2004. ISBN 0-7195-6528-6.
*Collins, Dave. "Captive Breeding and Management of the Aldabra Tortoise." Presented to 8th International Herpetological Symposium, Jacksonville Zoo, Jacksonville, Fl., 1984.
*Gerlach, Justin. [ 'Giant Tortoises of the Indian Ocean'] Chimiara publishers, Frankfurt. 2004
*Gibson, C.W.D. and J. Hamilton. "Population Processes in a Large Herbivorous Reptile: The Giant Tortoises of Aldabra Atoll." Occologia (Berlin), Spring-Summer, 1984, pp. 230-240.
*Grubb, P. "The Growth, Ecology, and Population Structure of the Giant Tortoises on Aldabra." Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. Lond. B, Vol. 260, 1971, pp. 327-372.
*Pritchard, Peter C.H. "Encyclopedia of Turtles." Neptune, New Jersey: T.F.H. Publications, Inc. Ltd., 1979.
*Spratt, David M.J. "Operation Curiesue: A Conservation Programme for the Aldabra Giant Tortoise in the Republic of Seychelles." Int. Zoo Yb., Vol. 28, 1989, pp. 66-69.
*Stearns, Brett C. "Captive Husbandry and Propagation of the Aldabra Giant Tortoise." Int. Zoo Yb., Vol. 27, 1988, pp. 98-103.
*Stoddart, D. R. "Retrospect and Prospect of Aldabra Research." Nature, March 15 1969, pp. 1004-1006.
*Stoddart, D. R. "The Aldabra Affair." Biological Conservation, 1974, pp. 63-69.
*Swingland, Ian R. "Securing the Tortoises Future." Country Life, August 30 1984, pp. 568-569.
*Swingland, Ian R. "Aldabran Giant Tortoise." The Conservation Biology of Tortoises, Occasional Papers of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC), No. 5, 1989.


* Listed as Vulnerable (VU D2 v2.3)


External links

* [ ARKive multimedia]
* [ Sea World Animal Bytes]
* [ Aldabra Giant Tortoise at EMY System and World Turtle Database]
* [ Seychelles Giant Tortoise Conservation Project]
* [ Aldabra Giant Tortoise]

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