Science

What’s the Deal With the Giant Tortoise? 


TL;DR (2-minute read)

  1. The Aldabra giant tortoise, a previously known herbivore, was caught on camera eating a baby bird.
  2. Based on its behavior, it’s clear that the tortoise has killed birds before and that their behavior has been practiced.
  3. However, this is not alarming. This simply proves that bird and tortoise populations in that area are rising and conservation efforts are working. 

Giant tortoise seen attacking and eating baby bird for first time in the  wild in 'horrifying' incident - CNN
An image that shows the instant before the turtle attacks the bird. CNN

We’ve all seen it. The gruesome video of a giant tortoise chomping on a baby bird. The video itself is pretty terrifying, especially considering how slow the tortoise is moving and how helpless the bird looks. But the act itself isn’t what scientists are talking about it. 

In reality, the Aldabra Giant Tortoise is a herbivore. Occasionally, herbivores will eat an animal for protein, but not regularly enough to consider them to be an omnivore. Additionally, scientists have never before been able to prove that tortoises purposefully try to kill an animal or they just happen to eat a piece of protein. But, this new video proves that this animal is deliberately hunting for a meal. 

Catching the bird looks simple enough. The birds in this area, the Frégate Island, are known to nest in the trees. It’s dangerous for them to be on the ground due to the other predators that live down there, like lizards and snakes. The baby chick instincts tell it to stay on a branch, which is why the bird in the video refuses to get off of the twig. But, it isn’t easy for the tortoise to catch the bird. The most exposed thing on the tortoise’s face is their eyes, which can easily be pecked by the bird. One false move and the Aldabra could be blinded. By the looks of the video, the giant tortoise doesn’t plan on succumbing to that fate any time soon. Its actions may be slow, but the behavior is practiced. Scientists all agree; this isn’t the tortoises’ first rodeo. 

Little Tern Caring And Feeding Their Chick In The Rainy Day. - YouTube
A little tern caring for its offspring.

But what does it all mean? Why does a giant tortoise eating a bird matter? The truth is, this is proof that environmental preservation is working. The Frégate Island where the Aldabra tortoise lives is a privatized island open to ecological tourism, but its main focus is preserving the various animals that live there and its land. 

Previously, due to human exploitation, habitat destruction, and large grazing animals, the bird and tortoise populations had fallen drastically. In 1744, after French explorer Lazure Picualt had first discovered the island, it was being exploited for coconut plantations and copra (dried coconut kernels) production. Later, in 1998, a German industrialist took over and started restoration efforts. Thanks to efforts made by the island, bird populations are back up, and tortoises are more than happy to go with the flow.

Sources

https://www.wired.com/story/so-hey-heres-a-tortoise-hunting-and-eating-a-baby-bird/

https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(21)00917-9?utm_source=EA

https://www.seyvillas.com/en/guide/islands/inner-islands/fregate

https://www.seyvillas.com/en/guide/islands/inner-islands/fregate

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