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6:08 AM Mon, Dec. 10th

Gentle giants return to the zoo

Courtesy photo<br>A Galapagos tortoise can weigh up to 450 pounds.

Courtesy photo<br>A Galapagos tortoise can weigh up to 450 pounds.

It is spring, and that means warmer weather and the return of Galapagos tortoises to Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary.

These 200-pound giants first arrived at HPZS last spring after a new enclosure had been constructed for them. Galapagos tortoises, as well as radiated tortoises, are on loan to the sanctuary from the Surprise Spring Foundation. Both of these species are endangered tortoises.

Galapagos tortoises, native to the Galapagos island archipelago off the coast of Ecuador, are the largest tortoises in the world, and can weigh more than 450 pounds. They also live to be over 100 years old. These tortoises are listed as endangered due to overhunting in previous centuries as well as competition with non-native species.

Radiated tortoises are native to the island of Madagascar and can weigh up to 35 pounds. Their name comes from the lines that "radiate" out from the center of each plate on its shell. It is often considered one of the world's most beautiful tortoises.

Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary houses four other species of tortoise all year long. Sulcata tortoises are the third-largest of all tortoise species, and may weigh more than 100 pounds. HPZS also houses one Sonoran Desert tortoise, three Texas Desert tortoises and one endangered California Desert tortoise, all of which are out of hibernation and on display.

Tortoises are popular pets, but as they grow to be too large for their owners to care for, they are often abandoned or released into the wild where many do not survive. Each year, HPZS receives numerous rescue tortoises, many of which are exotic species like Russian or Sulcata tortoises.

Wayne Fischer, Animal Care Manager of Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary, suggests doing your research before acquiring a pet tortoise, especially when it comes to larger species like the Sulcata tortoise: "It takes a few years for them to get big, but in a short five years, you can have a 50-pound rock." He recommends talking to your local reptile rescue about the species you are considering and figuring out what is the best tortoise for your situation, what they eat and what they need to live in a captive environment.

Learn more about the tortoises at HPZS on Saturday at Breakfast with the Tortoises. Reservations are required. Call 778-4242 for more information.