Tortoiseson December 17, 2012
We have two species of tortoise in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park; the Leopard Tortoise and the Hinged Tortoise. We have some Hinged Tortoises at the Falls Resort although they are fairly shy and our guests rarely see them. How do we know that they are Hinged Tortoises? Well, the quickest way to identify a tortoise is to pick it up and turn it upside down.
Underneath the Hinged Tortoise you can see two hard flaps which can open and close to protect their back legs!
Generally our tortoises are found near the feeding station for the zebra and giraffe. There is water there and the tortoises like to paddle in some water to cool down and take a drink. Although tortoises mostly eat grass (we sometimes treat them to a lettuce from the kitchens), they also eat worms and grubs. The area around the feeding station is fertile because of all the activity from the animals and worms can be found peeping out of the soil – a tasty snack for a tortoise.
Tortoises come from the family of chelonians which includes tortoise, terrapin and turtle. These creatures have been in existence for over 200 million years and saw the rise and fall of the dinosaur era. Their hard outer shell, built for protection, has obviously been a recipe for success of their species.
Tortoises have few predators. Interestingly the predators are birds – eagles, secretary birds and hawks. But the birds only go for young tortoises. If we have some offspring from ours at the Resort we will have to find a way to protect them. It will be rather difficult to find any baby tortoises as the females bury their eggs in the ground and the eggs only hatch after many, many months. Webster, our own ‘Dr Doolittle’, who cares for all our animals on site, will have to keep his eyes open.
In the wild, tortoises are prey to man’s activities. Sometimes they are caught for sale; sometimes they are caught for food; but many die in bushfires. Tortoises walk very slowly and when a bushfire is started nearby they cannot get away. There has been very little research done on tortoises in Zambia, in fact, throughout Africa, so we do not know how they are coping; whether their numbers are decreasing or not. Meanwhile we will keep ours safe and hope for some offspring in the future.