The Red-footed Tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria)
The Red-footed Tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria) is a tortoise native to South America. It has also been introduced to many islands in the Caribbean. It draws its name from the red or orange scales visible on its limbs, as well as its head and tail. It is popular as a pet, though it is protected under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that this species may not be exported from its home country without a permit.
The red-foot has a larger cousin, the yellow-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis denticulata), also known as the Brazilian giant tortoise. Many older references use the genus name Geochelone in place of the newer term Chelonoidis for all four South American tortoises. It is locally known as the savannah tortoise, in Brazil as jabuti, and in Venezuela as morrocoy, among other names.
Red-foot Tortoises have red scales on the limbs, as well as red, yellow, and/or orange facial markings. Red-foots will normally reach between 10 and 14 inches (25.4 – 35.6 cm) in carapace length, although in rare cases may grow up to 16 inches (40 cm). Red-foot males are larger than females in carapace length and weight, but are not wider or taller. Males can easily reach 20 pounds (nine kg) or more, while females weigh a bit less.
As with other tortoise species, male red-foots have a concave plastron. As red-foots mature, both sexes develop a unique mid-body constriction (some have referred to it as a “waist”) that, from a top view, gives the tortoises a decidedly hourglass appearance. This “hourglass” figure is much more developed in males than in females. Mature males also have longer and wider tails than females.
A red-foot tortoise generally lives 40–50 years. This creature can be found throughout extreme southern Central America, and central and northern South America including the countries of Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam, French Guyana, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina. They are also found on Trinidad, Barbados, Saint Lucia etc. and have been introduced to many other islands in the West Indies.
The red-foot occupies a number of habitats within this extensive range. It occurs in all types of forest habitat (rainforest, temperate forest, and dry thorn forest), and also dwells in savannah areas, including man-made grasslands resulting from ranching and slash-and-burn agricultural practices. Forest edges and savannahs seem to be the preferred habitat for this species, although there is some disagreement over this.
Red-foot tortoises are omnivores, though eat more plant-derived food than meat by far. In captivity, red-foots should be fed a mixture of high calcium greens, fruits, vegetables, and flowers.
In every country in its range, the biggest threat to the survival of red-footed tortoises is overhunting by man. Interestingly enough, tortoises are considered “fish” by the Catholic Church and during holy week, red-foots are consumed in huge numbers. Red-foots are collected and shipped to many different South American cities to be sold as a delicacy.
The fact that red-foots can tolerate long periods of time without food and water, otherwise an evolutionary advantage, makes this species both easy and profitable to transport.
Another threat facing red-foot populations is the omnipresent habitat loss and disturbance. Although it has been observed that red-footed tortoises can live on land that has been converted to agriculture, their densities are much lower than they are in natural, unaltered habitat. Tortoises living on agricultural lands are much easier to locate, so higher hunting rates may account for this difference.
Exportation for the pet trade also has a negative effect on red-footed tortoises, although it is much less of a threat to their survival than either hunting or habitat loss. The natural history of the red-foot tortoise provides insight into two areas, the susceptibility of this species to overhunting and habitat loss, and captive husbandry and reproduction.
Conservation efforts include the establishment and protection of wildlife reserves and national parks, where red-footed tortoises and other animals are protected from hunting. Due to a protection law through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) it is currently illegal to transport a red-footed tortoise from its home country without proper certification and permits, although some facilities have obtained permits for breeding purposes.
In the wild, the red-foot tortoise lays clutches of five to 15 eggs between July and September. They are generally buried in a nest in the ground in typical tortoise style. However, some authors report that locals in Panama have observed eggs laid in leaf-litter on the forest floor. Eggs are oblong (about 2″ x 1.5″) and have brittle shells. The hatchlings are round and flat, and are about 1.5″ in diameter.
(Source: Wikipedia – The Free Online Encyclopedia)