True Wild Life | Radiated Tortoise | The radiated tortoise is a relatively large species of tortoise, natively found on the island of Madagascar. Although having evolved in similar environments to other star-patterned tortoises from around the tropics, the radiated tortoise has more striking and complex markings than those of the Indian star tortoise, for example. The radiated tortoise is also known as the Sokake in Madagascar, and although they are critically endangered in the wild, it is widely believed that they are the most beautiful of all tortoise species. Naturally then, they are a popular exotic pet, which is thought to be one of the main reasons for their demise.
The radiated tortoise is natively found on the island of Madagascar in the far south and south-western parts of the island. They inhabit dry regions of brush, thorn forests, tall grasses and woodland, with the whole population found in an area 10,000 km squared. Isolated populations can still be found on the higher plateaus as well, but these habitats are incredibly fragmented and the existence of the tortoise here is not thought to go on for much longer. The radiated tortoise is thought to have disappeared entirely from around 40% of it's historical range, due to both habitat loss and exploitation.
Radiated tortoises usually begin mating when they are around half their adult size, and it starts with the male bobbing his head up and down to court his female. Once mated, the female digs a nest in the ground where she lays up to 5 small eggs (although 10 ore more is not uncommon). After an incubation period of between 4 and 7 months, the young radiated tortoises hatch measuring between 3 and 4 cm. Although they are born with their detailed star-patterns, the markings are white until they grow older. Radiated tortoises usually live for 40 to 50 years, but some have been known to be more than 100.
The radiated tortoise is a primarily herbivorous animal, and although the majority of it's diet is comprised of plant matter, they are known to supplement their nutrition by eating a small animal every now and again. Despite this, they need a high fibre and low protein diet to survive the most successfully. Leafy greens, grasses and herbs make up the bulk of the radiated tortoise's food, along with other plant matter like fruits, berries and prickly pears. In a book written about tortoises from around the world, the radiated tortoise is said to be particularly partial to eating foods that are red in colour.
The oldest living reptile was a radiated tortoise known as Tu'i Malila that was given to the Royal family in the mid 1700s by explorer Captain James Cook, and she died in 1965 at around 250 years old from natural causes. Although radiated tortoises are native to Madagascar, they have been introduced to the islands of Reunion and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean to boost their tortoise populations. Despite the fact that many radiated tortoises are eaten in Madagascar, it is actually people coming from other parts of the island, as the local tribes living alongside radiated tortoises believe there is a taboo against both touching and eating them.
Due to a dramatic fall in population numbers, the radiated tortoise has been listed as being Critically Endangered and is therefore under severe threat from becoming extinct in the wild forever. However, captive breeding programs have been relatively successful and are crucial to the survival of this species in the future. Due to the laws about exporting listed species though, there are few found in captivity, most of which are in the USA where they were taken before the species was declared to be at imminent risk from extinction.