Endangered tortoise Agatha turns sprightly 80 at Western Cape wildlife ranch

Agatha, a radiated tortoise, celebrated her 80th birthday at Cango Wildlife Ranch with husband Astro, 35.

Agatha, a radiated tortoise, celebrated her 80th birthday at Cango Wildlife Ranch with husband Astro, 35.

  • Agatha, a radiated tortoise at Cango Wildlife Ranch, turned 80 this week.
  • Radiated tortoises, indigenous to Madagascar, are critically endangered.
  • Agatha could live to between 100 and 150 years old.

One of Outdshoorn’s rarest residents celebrated her 80th birthday this week: Agatha, an endangered radiated tortoise, ushered in the milestone at Cango Wildlife Ranch on Tuesday.

Indigenous to Madagascar, these tortoises occupy a narrow band of spiny forest along the island’s southwest coast. The species appears to have disappeared entirely from about 40% of its past range due to habitat destruction and hunting.

Agatha spent her day in her specially heated enclosure, with volunteers having made special decorations for her room.

Some customised party hats were also made for her and her much younger husband, Astro, 35.

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Agatha and Astro joined the wildlife centre almost a decade ago when they were donated by a facility in KwaZulu-Natal in April 2012.

Agatha, a radiated tortoise, celebrated her 80th b

Agatha, a radiated tortoise, celebrated her 80th birthday at Cango Wildlife Ranch with husband Astro, 35.

Supplied Cango Wildlife Ranch

Since then, the couple has expanded their family to include five children, who also live at the centre.

“It is estimated that their population has declined by 80% over the past five decades,” said Cango Wildlife Ranch Zoological Director Narinda Beukes.

“As a mom to five young radiated tortoises, who hatched two years ago, Agatha has made a phenomenal contribution to the population management of these rare and beautiful reptilia.”

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Individualised attention

Agatha brings a big personality to the wildlife centre. Despite her age, she’s always on the move and very curious, explained acting Zoological Curator Kei Hodgson.

“When we place enrichment items in her enclosure, she is always the first to go and investigate,” said Hodgson.

Taking care of a radiated tortoise requires special, individualised attention.

“They have an outdoor enclosure that is designed to simulate their natural environment. They make use of this enclosure when the weather allows. To prevent them from becoming too cold, they also have an indoor enclosure that features specially made basking spots and underfloor heating,” said Hodgson.

“Their diet is also specialised for both winter and summer and differs [every day] so that they are sure to receive all their essential vitamins and nutrients.”

Agatha loves soft fruits and is also very partial to the Spekboom plant.

She might be at an advanced age for human years, but Agatha still has many birthdays ahead of her. Radiated tortoises can live up to 100 years with good care.

However, there have been cases where they have lived to over 150 years old, said Hodgson.

“Agatha plays a pivotal role in keeping the future of the radiated tortoise population extant. Sadly, the conservation situation in Madagascar, where many rare species such as the radiated tortoise are found, is grim,” Hodgson said.

“Not only does her presence provide an aesthetic and educational point to our facility, but she also represents a unique set of genes. Through responsible breeding with her mate, she will further her bloodline, creating a new set of possibilities for the propagation of her species.”

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Hodgson added although she might be in captivity, her offspring hopefully will be able to be reintroduced back into the wild of Madagascar once stable, natural areas of their natural habitat become available which would allow them to thrive.

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