Two adorable Giant Galapagos tortoises are born at a British zoo for the first time

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Two adorable Giant Galapagos tortoises have been born at a British zoo for the first time, marking a major milestone for breeding of the endangered species.

The hatchlings were born at Crocodiles of the World in Oxfordshire, having been fathered by a 70-year-old male in ‘peak physical condition’ called Dirk.

Shaun Foggett, founder of Crocodiles of the World, said: ‘We’re incredibly proud to have successfully bred these tortoises, who have previously been very close to extinction.

‘They are still facing an uncertain future, primarily due to historic over-exploitation and egg predation from invasive species.

‘We have all been hoping for this day since the Giant tortoises joined us in 2018 and it’s a significant achievement towards helping the conservation of the species.’

Two adorable Giant Galapagos tortoises have been born at a British zoo for the first time, marking a major milestone for breeding of the endangered species

Two adorable Giant Galapagos tortoises have been born at a British zoo for the first time, marking a major milestone for breeding of the endangered species

The hatchlings were born at Crocodiles of the World in Oxfordshire, having been fathered by a 70-year-old male in'peak physical condition' called Dirk (pictured)

The hatchlings were born at Crocodiles of the World in Oxfordshire, having been fathered by a 70-year-old male in ‘peak physical condition’ called Dirk (pictured)

The Giant Galapagos tortoise 

The Giant Galapagos tortoise is one of the most famous animals of the Galapagos Islands, with the Archipelago itself being named after them. 

They first arrived in the Galapagos from mainland South America 2-3 million years ago, where they underwent diversification into 14 species, differing in their morphology and distribution. 

They reach 4.9ft (1.5 metres) in length on average, and can weigh up to 880 pounds (400kg). 

The hatchlings weigh just 67g and 69g each, which is around the same weight as a kiwi fruit.

The zookeepers are monitoring them closely, feeding them a diet of dried grasses, pear cactus, weeds, and leafy greens.

Despite their diminutive size, the hatchlings will likely grow to be enormous in adulthood – Giant Galapagos tortoises are the largest living tortoise species in the world, and can weigh up to 880 pounds (400kg).

To breed the hatchlings, the zookeepers turned to Dirk – a 70-year-old Giant Galapagos tortoise who first arrive in the UK in the 1960s, and despite his age, is in ‘peak physical condition.’

Dirk, who weighs an impressive 350 pounds (165kg), bred with a 21-year-old female called Charlie in November 2021.

In total, Crocodiles of the World is home to four adult Giant Galapagos tortoises, with two females called Zuzu and Isabella joining Charlie and Dirk.

The tortoises were brought to the zoo in 2018 from Chester Zoo and ZSL London.

Unfortunately, no fertile eggs were laid in the first three years, demonstrating just how hard it is to breed the species.

The hatchlings weigh just 67g and 69g each, which is around the same weight as a kiwi fruit. The zookeepers are monitoring them closely, feeding them a diet of dried grasses, pear cactus, weeds, and leafy greens

The hatchlings weigh just 67g and 69g each, which is around the same weight as a kiwi fruit. The zookeepers are monitoring them closely, feeding them a diet of dried grasses, pear cactus, weeds, and leafy greens

Despite their diminutive size, the hatchlings will likely grow to be enormous in adulthood - Giant Galapagos tortoises are the largest living tortoise species in the world

Despite their diminutive size, the hatchlings will likely grow to be enormous in adulthood – Giant Galapagos tortoises are the largest living tortoise species in the world

Jamie Gilks, Head of Reptiles at Crocodiles of the World, said: ‘To have a successful breeding with this iconic species really means a lot, not just to me personally but to everyone here at the zoo, especially after all the hard work our team have put in.

‘Opening our incubator to see a cracked shell and feel the baby moving inside was indescribable, and a moment that will stay with everyone involved for a very long time.’

The Giant Galapagos tortoise is one of the most famous animals of the Galapagos Islands, with the Archipelago itself being named after them. 

They first arrived in the Galapagos from mainland South America 2-3 million years ago, where they underwent diversification into 14 species, differing in their morphology and distribution.   

The Giant Galapagos tortoise is one of the most famous animals of the Galapagos Islands, with the Archipelago itself being named after them

The Giant Galapagos tortoise is one of the most famous animals of the Galapagos Islands, with the Archipelago itself being named after them

The tortoises first arrived in the Galapagos from mainland South America 2-3 million years ago, where they underwent diversification into 14 species, differing in their morphology and distribution

The tortoises first arrived in the Galapagos from mainland South America 2-3 million years ago, where they underwent diversification into 14 species, differing in their morphology and distribution

In total, Crocodiles of the World is home to four adult Giant Galapagos, with two females called Zuzu and Isabella joining Charlie and Dirk

In total, Crocodiles of the World is home to four adult Giant Galapagos, with two females called Zuzu and Isabella joining Charlie and Dirk

The Galapagos Conservation Trust explained: ‘Giant tortoises show large variation in size and shape but all species can be classed into two main shell types: domed and saddle-backed. 

‘Dome-shelled tortoises lack an upward angle to the front of their carapace (shell), restricting the extent to which they can raise their heads. 

‘They tend to live on large, humid islands where there is lots of vegetation to eat. 

‘Saddle-backed tortoises have an upward curve to the front of their carapace, which allows them to stretch up to reach higher growing plants. 

‘They tend to live on arid islands in Galapagos, where food is less abundant.’

WHAT ARE THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS?

The Galapagos islands are situated 563 miles west of mainland Ecuador, of which they are a part. They are some of the most remote land masses in the world.

There are 21 islands but only four of them are inhabited, with a population of around 25,000. 

They contain more than 1,300 species found nowhere else on earth. With the islands at the intersection of three ocean currents, the sea is a mecca for marine life.

The most famous species unique to the Galapagos include the giant tortoise, marine iguana, flightless cormorant and the Galapagos penguin – the only penguin species to be found in the Northern Hemisphere.

Unesco decided to declare Galapagos a World Heritage Site In Danger in 2007 due to a boom in tourism.

Indeed, annual visitor numbers have increased from 12,000 in 1979 to more than 300,000 today. 

Dozens of Galapagos species are now ‘critically endangered’.

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