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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Shellshocked! Giant tortoise sets the pace for her 45 babies... but who's the daddy?

By Emma Reynolds

Learning to crawl: Kali, pictured with some of her 45 children, is hard pressed to keep up with the huge brood

It is hard enough looking after one child, but this giant tortoise has to keep up with a mammoth brood of 45.

The African Sulcata - one of the largest species of tortoise in the world - laid the eggs in two clutches at Linton Zoo in Cambridgeshire.

Mother Kali, an African name meaning 'energetic', had her children in March and April and they are now about four inches long.

Tortoise and the haring off: Kali, right, and Louis, one of four possible fathers to the clan, chase after their herd

But adult Sulcatas are the largest species of mainland tortoise and can grow to between 24 and 36 inches (60-90cm), weighing up to 14-and-a-half stone.

They are the third largest species of tortoise in the world, second only to the Galapagos and the Aldabra.

But the mystery of who fathered the crowd of children is an even weightier problem, as there are four adult males at the 18 acre wildlife park they call home.

Zoo spokeswomen Dawny Greenwood has simply been battling to get the tiny tortoises to look at the camera at the same time - a problem many parents will find familiar.

She said: 'Getting these newly hatched all looking the same way proved to be an impossible task.

'Babies are not normally kept loose in the paddock with the adults, but enjoy the comfort and safety of nice warm vivariums with UV and Infra-red lamps, but we wanted to try to get a nice family portrait.

Scaling new heights: The babies are only four inches long, but will reach 24 to 36 inches by adulthood

Giant ambition: Hulking Kali, right, and Louis play with the babies at Linton Zoo, where they were born

'The Sulcata giant tortoises have always featured highly with us, our herd of six breeding adults average around 40 years old and they are all ex-pets.

'One has travelled the world with its former owner having been rescued as a hatchling from children using him as a football in Mauritania, Africa.

'We are not sure of the dad as we have four males - Louis is pictured as it is a case of "who's the daddy then?"'

Kali is 30 years old and weighs 9st 6lbs, measuring 30 inches in length. The average lifespan of a Sulcata - or African spurred tortoise - is 30 to 50 years but tortoises are some of the longest lived creatures on the planet, with the oldest on record reportedly reaching 165 years old.

Ms Greenwood described how the eggs - which are usually around the size of golf balls - were protected after they hatched.

'The female tortoise will dig out a large scrape in which to lay the eggs, however each year the eggs have to be removed as the climate here does not allow for natural hatching.

'The eggs are collected and incubated at a constant 30 degrees until hatching.'



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