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Kessingland: Keepers at Afirca Alive delighted at arrival of five baby leopard tortoises

18:06 07 January 2014

One of the five tiny leopard tortoises that have hatched at Africa Alive in Kessingland.

One of the five tiny leopard tortoises that have hatched at Africa Alive in Kessingland.

Archant

Keepers at a Suffolk wildlife park are looking after some tiny new arrivals.

A clutch of five baby leopard tortoises have hatched out of their eggs at Africa Alive in Kessingland, near Lowestoft.

Some of them, at just a few weeks old, are not much larger than a 50 pence piece.

The little tortoises currently weigh just a few ounces and, with fully-grown specimens tipping the scales at anywhere between 30lbs and 100lbs, the minute hatchlings have a lot of growing to do.

However, as their life expectancy is between 80 and 100 years, they have plenty of time to do it in.

The leopard tortoise is the fourth-largest tortoise in the world and the second largest on mainland Africa.

They can reach carapace (shell) sizes of more than 2ft in length. However, most specimens usually reach carapace lengths of 15 to 18ins and males are sometimes larger than females.

The park has been successfully keeping leopard tortoises since 1996, when the existing adults arrived as youngsters after being confiscated by Customs and Excise officers at Heathrow Airport. The last time the species successfully bred at Africa Alive was in 2007.

The eggs were laid in a sand nest site provided specifically for this purpose and were artificially incubated by staff at the park. Correct temperature and humidity are critical in the incubation process and must be just right if an embryo is to develop normally.

The baby tortoise is ready to emerge from the egg after 150 days.

From the time they initially pierce the shell of the egg, the hatching process usually takes between eight and 24 hours.

The first small fracture is made to permit air breathing to begin. Prior to this, the embryo’s oxygen demand has been met via permeation through the egg shell.

This initial small hole is gradually enlarged over the next few hours.

The hatchling may then sit in the egg for some time whilst its yolk sac is absorbed.

Until this happens, the hatchling remains especially vulnerable as its movement is seriously impaired.

The five tortoises hatched out at Africa Alive between November 28 and December 4.

They are herbivores and in the wild they primarily eat grasses as well as succulent plants, toadstools, and fruit. They also eat old bones to give them calcium.

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