The Gladys Porter Zoo has some new members to add to its animal family. Last week, a few Galápagos tortoise eggs began hatching in the zoo’s incubator. “Until they’re ready (to leave the incubator), we keep them wrapped up to simulate being underground. They spend up to two weeks to finish absorbing the yolk,” said Ashley Ortega, a reptile keeper at the zoo. The newly born females will be raised by the zoo for about the next five years. Afterward, the tortoises will be transferred to another zoo or facility based on their bloodline.
“We mark the eggs with the day they were laid and the names of the parents so we make sure that we aren’t mixing up bloodlines. If we send them to different areas and if we didn’t have the correct parents, it would be a problem,” Ortega said.
The zoo waits to name the hatchlings until they are about three years old. “They can have all kinds of personalities. So we wait until we can see what their personality is like to give them a name,” Ortega said. “We mark them with acrylic paint to keep track of them before that.”
A fully grown female Galápagos tortoise can weigh anywhere from 300 to 500 pounds, and a male can weigh 500 to 800 pounds. Ortega calls them “gentle giants.” “They sleep and eat all day long, and nothing is done in a hurry,” Ortega said.
The zoo has one male and five females in its adult exhibit. Two of the females (Houston and Myrtle) originate from the Galápagos Islands and were brought to the United States in 1929, Ortega said. “They weren’t hatchlings then either,” Ortega said.
In the wild, the mothers will leave after laying their eggs and burying them underground. One immediate danger is rodents digging up the nest and eating the babies before they hatch. The zoo raises the females because it helps the species survive. The hatchlings will normally spend about five months in the egg. There are currently 32 eggs in the incubator, Ortega said. “I enjoy working with them because they’re an endangered species. It’s pretty rewarding to me that we are able to incubate them, and it’s amazing to think that they’ll probably outlive my children and my grandchildren,” Ortega said.