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Five Seychelles Aldabra Atoll giant tortoises are moving into the Virginia Zoo on Friday

NORFOLK, VA - Five Seychelles Aldabra Atoll Giant tortoises – the second largest land tortoise in the world – are moving into the Virginia Zoo on Friday, August 13, 2010.

Five Seychelles Aldabra Atoll giant tortoises are moving into the Virginia Zoo on Friday

NORFOLK, VA – Five Seychelles Aldabra Atoll Giant tortoises – the second largest land tortoise in the world – are moving into the Virginia Zoo on Friday, August 13, 2010. The largest, a male named A.J., will be transferred to his new home at noon, and the big adventure will begin for this reptile that weighs 475 pounds and his new fans!

“Our second largest tortoise, a female, weighs 150 pounds. We also feature three growing juveniles that weigh 10 to 12 pounds each, all in the same new Virginia Zoo habitat,” explained Greg Bockheim, executive director. “Moving A.J. is going a bit challenging but he does enjoy the attention. We will drive him in a trailer from the holding area to the new exhibit. When he arrives, a team of zookeepers will help lift him out of the trailer. Once he is on the ground, they will encourage him to walk into his new home, using his favorite foods to lure him. We’ve found that A.J. is pretty cooperative; he enjoys the attention of his zookeeper escorts who will guide and lead him to his new home. It will be a fun experience for all.”

A.J. and Lynn are estimated to be around 80 to 90 years old. The youngsters, Dottie, Bubbles, and Jackson, hatched in the spring of 2006. The lifespan of Aldabra tortoises is estimated to be over 100 years.

The tortoise exhibit was built by zoo staff. Its low barriers will help visitors feel even closer to the animals. Other examples of immersive exhibits built by zoo staff include the red panda and the bald eagle spaces. “This exhibit will be giving visitors an up close view of a truly amazing animal,” notes Bockheim. “The sheer size of these reptiles, paired with their gentle demeanors, makes them as impressive as rhinos, elephants, and their other African neighbors.”

Aldabra tortoises are native to the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean. The cluster of coral islands is part of the Seychelles’ Islands in the Indian Ocean. They are the only modern day survivor of 18 large tortoise species that once lived on these islands. The other species were rendered extinct by humankind’s impact on their habitat. They were over-hunted, and their eggs were eaten by predators such as cats, rats, and pigs that were introduced to the islands by sailors.

The Aldabra is the only species left, and it was near extinction in the late 1800s when Charles Darwin and other naturalists signed a petition to protect it, making it the first protected species. They are still protected by the Seychelles government and the wild population has soared to 100,000 to 150,000, although they are still considered to be threatened, in part because island eco-systems are delicate and sensitive to severe weather.

“These tortoises will amaze our visitors,” said Bockheim, “but our hope is that they also will inspire guests to realize that our conservation actions do make a difference. The Aldabras are a powerful environmental success story.”
Some fun facts about the new gang include A.J.’s love of having his keepers to rub his neck. He thoroughly enjoys the contact, and it helps train him to receive medical care. Lynn, the adult female, acts more bashful, but also responds to attention from the keepers. The youngsters are quite small compared to the adults, and won’t reach their full size until they are at least 15 years old! Although reptiles are often thought of as quiet creatures, these tortoises do have a repertoire of sounds they use to communicate with each other and their human caretakers. These noises include loud grunts and sighs.

Starting at noon on Friday, Hampton Roads residents can get to know these impressive, massive tortoises and be inspired by their conservation story.
As an accredited Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) facility, the Virginia Zoo exhibits over 350 animals, beautifully manicured grounds and offers a fun-filled day for all. For more than a century, the Virginia Zoo has demonstrated a commitment to wildlife, conservation, and education. Open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and located at 3500 Granby Street in Norfolk. Daily admission prices are US$8.00 for adults, US$7.00 for seniors (age 62 and over), and US$6.00 for children ages 2-11. Visit www.virginiazoo.org or call (757) 441-2374 for more information.

To view Virginia Zoo’s web page on Zoo and Aquariu Visitor, go to: http://www.zandavisitor.com/forumtopicdetail-118-Virginia_Zoo

Alain St.Ange, chief executive officer of the Seychelles Tourism Board said to the press that Seychelles prides itself on its achievements in the field of environment and that the islands are always proud to offer enjoyment to the different people of the world by making it possible for them to see and to appreciate what we have cherished and protected for humanity. “Our Giant Tortoises are just one of the many ‘wonders of another world,’ the world that is the Seychelles, and it is only by visiting the Seychelles that all those unique treasures can truly be experienced,” Alain St.Ange said.

PHOTO: Zookeeper Martha Hamilton takes care of A.J., an Aldabra tortoise that outweighs her by hundreds of pounds!