Thursday 22 March 2018

Tortoises hoodwinked by tomatoes

An Aldabra tortoise is being weighed at Paignton Zoo (Paignton Zoo/PA)
An Aldabra tortoise is being weighed at Paignton Zoo (Paignton Zoo/PA)

Zoo staff have solved the problem of how to weigh a 200 kilo (31 stone) tortoise - by using tomatoes.

Trying to the lift the giant animals is back-breaking work and normally sees five keepers struggling to manhandle the tortoise onto the scales at Paignton Zoo in Devon.

The Aldabra giant tortoises weigh anything between 75 kilos (11.8 stone) and 200 kilos, which is up to more than 200 times the weight of an average domestic pet tortoise.

Mike Bungard, curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates, explained how tomatoes have helped overcome the weighty problem.

"The tortoises are trained to walk up onto the scales by themselves," he said.

"Target training means we can move them cooperatively - they follow the target to get a treat.

"Strawberries and tomatoes are their favourites - though as tortoises can see in infrared, it might just be that they are attracted to red things.

"It's simple - and saves a lot of back-ache."

The zoo's six giant tortoises weigh a total of 744 kilos, which is 1,640 pounds or 117 stone, and around three-quarters of a tonne of tortoise - very nearly the weight of a Supermini car.

Elvis is the largest at 208 kilos (458 pounds or nearly 33 stone), while the smallest is Dora at a mere 75 kilos.

Timmy is 176 kilos, Sophie 106 kilos, Miley 84 kilos and Cleo 95 kilos.

Elvis is said to be the largest tortoise in the entire country.

Veterinary associate Christa van Wessem said: "We don't check them regularly, but as and when needed or when one of them seems off colour.

"We look at their demeanour, we look for signs of illness like nasal or eye discharges, how they breathe, what their faeces look like, any indication of injury or skin abnormalities.

"They are difficult animals to examine because their shell hides a lot of their body, and if they decide not to cooperate, there is not much we can do about that."

The Aldabra giant tortoise originates from the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles and is one of the largest tortoise species in the world.

They are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Press Association

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