Not to worry! This is no infectious disease or rare parasite that’s turned up in the animal collections at the Biodôme, but rather a new species of turtle that our Tropical Rainforest visitors can now observe in the Biodôme’s ecosystems of the Americas.
The Giant South American Turtle (Podocnemis expansa), also known as the Arrau River Turtle or South American River Turtle, inhabits numerous rivers in northern South America, such as the Orinoco, the Amazon and their tributaries. Its lifestyle is intimately connected with the water, and it leaves its element mostly to migrate to other bodies of water or to lay its eggs, gathering in great numbers with other members of the species on the sandbars of those waterways. Its size is truly impressive. The female can reach a length of 89 centimeters and a weight of 90 kilograms. In nature it feeds primarily on plant matter (aquatic plants, fruit, flowers) and a freshwater sponge that grows on flooded trees.
At the Biodôme
In April 2008 the Biodôme obtained four small three-year-old South American River Turtles who’d been born in captivity at Hawaii’s Honolulu Zoo. When they arrived at the Biodôme, the turtles measured about 15 centimeters in length and weighed 300 grams. As they were intended for the caiman habitat, they had to do some growing so as not to end up as food for those reptiles. Turtle growth being as slow as it is, it took six years for them to reach a “safe” size of 40 centimeters and a weight ranging from four to seven kilograms before they could be introduced into the caiman lake last November. Another interesting fact, the turtles’ sex was unknown when they got here. We now know that there are two males and two females, who might one day breed. Our river turtles’ diet consists of vegetables and fruit, a gelatin containing feed, and a little bit of fish.
Status of the species
Previously overhunted, above all for the consumption of its eggs, today it’s considered a species not at risk by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The turtles nevertheless appear on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), in order to control imports and exports between countries. That measure is designed to help protect individuals living in nature.