Becoming a first-time parent is always a big deal, but it may be an even bigger deal when you’re 90-years-old.
That’s what just happened to Mr. Pickles, a radiated tortoise living at the Houston Zoo. He and his partner, Mrs. Pickles, surprised a zoo staff member at closing time with their looming parenthood.
A blog from the zoo reads, “The new hatchlings came as a surprise when a herpetology keeper happened upon Mrs. Pickles as the tortoise was laying her eggs at closing time. The animal care team quickly went to work uncovering the eggs and getting them to the safety of the Reptile & Amphibian House. The soil in Houston isn’t hospitable to the Madagascar native tortoises, and it’s unlikely the eggs would have hatched on their own if the keeper hadn’t been in the right place at the right time.”
The move worked, as the new parents recently welcomed three hatchlings appropriately named, considering their surname: Dill, Gherkin, and Jalapeño. The zoo says once they’re big enough, they’ll join their parents. For now, they’re under the care of staff.
The zoo notes that Mr. Pickles is the most genetically valuable radiated tortoise in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan, which you can read more about here. Radiated tortoises – native to Madagascar – are critically endangered. Threats to the species include over-collection, with people paying high prices to eat them. Some also believe the tortoises to be aphrodisiacs, which leads to them being offered as wedding gifts.
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute says there are more than 1,000 individuals in captive breeding programs, with some in North America showing promise. In the wild, however, there is the concern of extinction.
You can see more pictures of the newest radiated tortoise hatchlings at the Houston Zoo’s website.
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