ALDABRA GIANT TORTOISES
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Picture Courtesy: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/
Context: Reintroducing the Aldabra giant tortoise to degraded areas in Madagascar aims to restore ecosystems, including forests and prevent future forest fires, particularly in regions affected by cattle grazing.
Background and History
- The Aldabra giant tortoise, Aldabrachelys gigantea, is the second-largest species of land tortoise globally, after the Galapagos giant tortoise.
- The species evolved from ancestors in Madagascar, with the Aldabrachelys abrupta lineage migrating to Seychelles and later evolving into the Aldabra giant tortoise.
- Six hundred years ago, giant tortoises were wiped out on Madagascar by hunters, and the reintroduction of Aldabra giants marks the first time giant tortoises have been released in Madagascar since the 1500s.
- The project began in 2018, bringing Aldabra giant tortoises from the Seychelles to Madagascar.
- The tortoises have been reproducing on their own, with 152 hatchlings born in the five years since the reintroduction.
- The tortoises are being raised in a tortoise nursery, and juveniles are prepared for release into the wild with skills necessary for survival.
Ecological Role and Habitat Restoration
- Giant tortoises historically played a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance in Madagascar by dispersing seeds through their dung.
- The reintroduction aims to restore the original habitats of Madagascar, including forests, woodlands, and shrublands that have been degraded over the years.
- Research suggests that reintroducing the Aldabra giant tortoise can help prevent devastating forest fires by limiting dry fuel available on the forest floor.
- The tortoises feed on grass and dry leaves, reducing the risk of fire spread.
Biodiversity and Tourism Impact
- The project's goal is to have 500 wild giant tortoises in the Anjajavy Reserve by 2030 and about 2,000 by 2040.
- Successful reintroduction may lead to the expansion of Aldabra giant tortoise habitats across Madagascar, benefiting biodiversity and tourism.
- Restoration of habitat mosaics with trees could support various animal species like lemurs, indigenous birds, and chameleons.
Climate Change Mitigation
- The increase in tree cover following larger-scale reintroduction is expected to help reduce the impacts of climate change.
- This could be particularly beneficial for areas that have experienced famine, potentially worsened by climate change.
About Aldabra Giant Tortoises
Habitat and Distribution
- Found primarily on Aldabra Atoll, part of the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean.
- Also introduced to other islands like Mauritius, Réunion, and some in the central Seychelles.
- Inhabit diverse environments like mangrove swamps, coastal beaches, scrub forests, and grasslands.
- They create their habitat called "tortoise turf" by grazing, creating open areas with specific vegetation.
- One of the largest tortoises in the world, with males reaching up to 1.2 meters (4 feet) in carapace length and weighing a whopping 550 pounds (250 kilograms)!
- Females are slightly smaller, with a carapace length of around 0.9 meters (3 feet) and weighing 350 pounds (159 kilograms).
- They have large, dome-shaped shells for protection and long necks to reach high foliage.
- Males have longer, thicker tails and are generally larger than females.
- Their sturdy legs and flat feet help them traverse various terrains, including sand.
Lifespan and Reproduction
- These gentle giants are known for their remarkable longevity, with lifespans exceeding 100 years in the wild. Some individuals even reach 200 years!
- Breeding season occurs during the rainy season, with males competing for females through neck wrestling and nuzzling.
- Females lay clutches of up to 25 eggs, which incubate for about 8 months.
Diet and Feeding Habits
- Primarily herbivores, munching on grasses, leaves, fruits, and cacti.
- They play a crucial role in their ecosystem by dispersing seeds through their droppings, promoting plant growth.
- Their grazing also helps control plant communities and create diverse habitats.
- They can go for long periods without water, conserving it by excreting uric acid paste instead of liquid urine.
- Classified as "Vulnerable" by the IUCN due to past threats like habitat loss, hunting, and introduced predators.
- Conservation efforts have been successful in increasing their population, with over 100,000 individuals estimated in the wild.
- Ongoing threats include invasive species, habitat degradation, and climate change.
- The reintroduction of Aldabra giant tortoises to Madagascar is a promising conservation initiative with the potential to restore ecosystems, prevent wildfires, enhance biodiversity, and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Q. Which of the following statements are correct about the Aldabra giant tortoise's habitat?
1. They are primarily found on Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles islands.
2. They have been introduced to other islands like Mauritius and Réunion.
3. They prefer to live in dense forests with tall trees.
4. They can be found in diverse environments like beaches, grasslands, and mangrove swamps.
How many of the above statements are correct?
A) Only one
B) Only two
C) Only three
D) All four
Statement 1 is correct. The Aldabra giant tortoises are primarily found on Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles islands.
Statement 2 is correct. They have been introduced to other islands like Mauritius and Réunion as part of conservation efforts.
Statement 3 is incorrect. Aldabra giant tortoises are not known for preferring dense forests with tall trees. In their natural habitat on Aldabra Atoll, they inhabit diverse environments such as beaches, grasslands, and mangrove swamps. They are adapted to various ecosystems, but dense forests with tall trees are not their typical habitat.
Statement 4 is correct. Aldabra giant tortoises can be found in diverse environments like beaches, grasslands, and mangrove swamps, showcasing their adaptability to various ecosystems.