Giant Tortoise Yard
Have a chance encounter with our gentle giants, the Aldabra Tortoises. Meet the famous mild mannered Quazi, Tank, and Orville – get up close, give them some love, and be sure to take lots of pictures (the camera loves them).
Our beloved giant tortoise, Methuselah, who passed away on July 9, 2011, was South Dakota's oldest resident. He was born in 1881 in the Galapagos Islands, and weighed in at 600 pounds. Methuselah celebrated his birthday each year by feasting on his favorite food, watermelon.
Many visitors have wondered why giant tortoises live so long. Reptile Garden's Public Relations Director, John Brockelsby, has a theory about the longevity of tortoises, "These gentle giants are strict vegetarians, there is no fat or cholesterol in their diets. They move incredibly slowly, and have no stress in their lives...they are completely docile, peaceful creatures. We figure if humans followed these guidelines, we would probably see a dramatic increase in our own life spans."
Mr. Brockelsby and CEO Joe Maierhauser had known Methuselah since they were young children when John’s father and Joe’s uncle, Earl Brockelsby, introduced the giant tortoise into his new home in South Dakota in 1954.
Tortoise Fun Facts
- Giant tortoise eggs are about the size of a tennis ball and are buried in moist sand or loose soil. At hatching, the babies are about 3 inches long.
- It takes a giant tortoise about 20 years to reach breeding size.
- Galapagos and Aldabra tortoises are strict vegetarians, feeding on various grasses and cacti. They are fond of fruits and most vegetables.
- The tortoise likely would not beat the hare, but when strongly motivated these big fellows can hike right along. They have been known to travel 3 or 4 miles in a day on rugged terrain.
- They are also very powerful and can plow over small trees, people, and many types of fences.
- Their armor makes the larger specimens nearly invulnerable to attack by any of the creatures found in their homeland. If threatened they quickly draw their heads in with a loud hiss and bring their plated front legs together. The tail is tucked in as additional defense.
- They lack teeth, but their jaws are lined with horny sharp ridges which come together like a pair of pinking shears. Some types of turtles will bite viciously, but these gentle creatures almost never will. However, if a person should misjudge while offering them food a large tortoise could easily remove a finger.
- Male tortoises are generally much larger than females of the same species.
- Turtle soup is made from Sea Turtles. No matter how much "turtle soup" could be made from one of our tortoises, most people would probably not care much for it since it doesn't taste very good.
- Since these are tortoises they do not need to be in water. In fact, they don't even need to drink water if their food is moist enough (lettuce for example).
- They love spending days on end in mud holes. The mud cools them on hot summer days, keeps insects away and probably just feels good.
Conservation Status: Endangered
There are two types of Giant Tortoise found in the world – Aldabra and Galapagos. Aldabra tortoises come from the Seychelles islands located in the Indian Ocean east of Africa; Galapagos tortoises inhabit the Galapagos Islands off the western coast of South America. Both types of giant tortoises are rare and are protected on their native islands and every effort is being made to increase their numbers to a safe level.