Radiated Tortoises (Geochelone radiata) (Astrochelys radiata)
Image by wallygrom (very busy at work)
Kaleta Reserve, Amboasary Sud, Madagascar …
From Wikipedia –
The radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) (Geochelone radiata) is a species in the genus of the Astrochelys tortoises. It is monotypical of its genus. Although this species is native to Southern Madagascar and mainly only found there, it can be found in the rest of this country and has been introduced to the islands of Réunion and Mauritius. As the Radiated Tortoises are herbivores, grazing constitutes 80-90% of their diet, while they also eat fruits and succulent plants. A favorite food in the wild is the Opuntia cactus. They are known to graze regularly in the same area, thus keeping the vegetation in that area closely trimmed. They seem to prefer new growth rather than mature growth because of the high-protein, low-fiber content. These tortoises are, however, endangered, mainly because of the destruction of their habitat by humans and because of poaching.
The oldest tortoise ever recorded, indeed the oldest reptile ever recorded, was a radiated tortoise, Tu’i Malila; there is controversy over whether she lived 150, 188, or 250 years.
Growing to a carapace length of up to 16 inches (41cm) and weighing up to 35 pounds (16kg), the radiated tortoise is considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful tortoises.
This tortoise has the basic "tortoise" body shape, which consists of the high-domed carapace, a blunt head, and elephantine feet. The legs, feet, and head are yellow except for a variably sized black patch on top of the head.
The carapace of the radiated tortoise is brilliantly marked with yellow lines radiating from the center of each dark plate of the shell, hence its name. This "star" pattern is more finely detailed and intricate than the normal pattern of other star-patterned tortoise species, such as G. elegans of India. The radiated tortoise is also larger than G. elegans, and the scutes of the carapace are smooth, and not raised up into a bumpy, pyramidal shape as is commonly seen in the latter species. There is slight sexual dimorphism. Compared to females, male radiated tortoises usually have longer tails and the notch in the plastron beneath the tail is more noticeable.
Radiated tortoises occur naturally only in the extreme southern and southwestern part of the island of Madagascar. They have also been introduced to the nearby island of Reunion. They prefer dry regions of brush, thorn (Diderae) forests, and woodlands of southern Madagascar.
Unfortunately, these tortoises are critically endangered due to loss of habitat, being poached for food, and being over exploited in the pet trade. It is listed in Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which prohibits the import or export of the species under most conditions. However, due to the poor economic conditions of Madagascar, many of the laws are largely ignored.
No estimates of wild populations are available, but their numbers are declining, and many authorities see the potential for a rapid decline to extinction in the wild. In the North American studbook, 332 specimens are listed as participating in captive breeding programs such as the SSP (Species Survival Plan). Captive breeding has shown great promise as in Captive Breeding Program for the Radiated Tortoise at the New York Zoological Society’s Wildlife Survival Center.