Notes From the Zookeeper: Remember Meatball the Miracle Tortoise?

Remember this little guy? He is a tiny miracle of a Radiated Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) . His egg had been broken during excavation of the nest (we have to excavate them or the eggs will die), and his keeper had carefully replaced the broken bit of shell and hoped for the best. And out he came with only a small cosmetic defect in his shell.

Now Meatball is a year old, and my how he has grown!

Right before Christmas, guess what? Meatball had a baby brother!

Radiated Tortoise says it is going to have to odd, because it just…can’t…even…

The hatchling should be a male because it was incubated at a lower temperature – 84F. A temperature of 88F produces females. This minute difference in temperatures is one reason why climate change can have a devastating impact on a species. A few really hot summers can result in more females than males, which sounds great at first glance. But too many females in the breeding population can very rapidly reduce genetic diversity.

This baby popped out right before Christmas. What a great surprise! The eggs weren’t even expected to hatch for a few more weeks. We check eggs every morning and afternoon, because we never know for sure. It’s not like incubating bird eggs, where there is only a day or two of variability in expected hatch dates. There can be MONTHS of variability. Like now. SURPRISE!

Now, back to Meatball. It’s hard to see how much he has grown in the last year until you see him beside his new brother. So here ya go!

Meatball’s brother (so far nameless). He likes his collard-green plate more than his chopped greens and veggies.

And here are the two of them together.

Awww! Family portrait!

There are still a few more eggs in the incubator, and Mom and Dad have done such a good job making babies that they no longer have the recommendation to breed, so we will be getting a different pair to work with. If we fill up zoo holdings with animals that are closely related, there’s no room in captivity for genetic diversity. Most zoo animals only have a few offspring. It may be a little while before we have more baby Radiated Tortoises. That’s okay. They’re worth waiting for!

What’s exciting in your world? I want to know!

25 thoughts on “Notes From the Zookeeper: Remember Meatball the Miracle Tortoise?

    • They have an extremely unusual shell shape, which has made them very valuable for poaching. But Madagascar is having much more success with rehabilitating and releasing confiscated animals, so there is hope!

  1. You have totally MADE my day, Heather! Woo Hoo! First Al a couple of posts ago and now Meatball! 😀 He has grown quite a bit in a year and he still has such an adorable face.

    I’m nursing a cold or a bad allergy attack (these days, I can’t tell the difference), so I know I’ll return to the family album when I need a pick-me-up.

  2. My weekend job is in pet supply (retail), so I really only ever get to pet people’s doggos (and I’m a dyed-in-the-wool CAT person). You get to handle all manner of fun creatures! Totes jelly!

    … and on top of that, you work in a field you LOVE, and they even PAY you to do it! How blessed are you? (I’m struggling with the winter “hiatus” that happens every year – I just wanna get back on set, so I can feel blessed, too!)

A penny for your thoughts! And by penny, I mean a warm-fuzzy in your heart.

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