Nine eggs from an 80-year-old giant Galapagos tortoise named Nigrita have successfully hatched at the Zurich Zoo. And while Nigrita’s age may come as a shock, it shouldn’t. In fact, she paired up with a tortoise 36 years her junior to bring this group of hatchlings into the world.
"Nigrita is our oldest animal at the zoo, but she is probably in her best years to lay eggs," senior curator Robert Zingg said, according to NBC News.
Nigrita weighs about 200 pounds, while the aptly named father Jumbo tips the scales at about double that, according to a zoo press release. In comparison, their tiny, hard-shelled offspring currently weigh between 4 and 5 ounces each. Because the new babies are so much smaller than their parents, they are being kept in a separate area for the most part — presumably so they don't accidentally get smushed.
Mother of many tortoises
Nigrita arrived at the Zurich Zoo in 1946 but didn't lay her first eggs until more than three decades later. Although none of those early eggs survived, Nigrita has had successful hatchlings many times since and now has offspring living in zoos throughout Europe.
This fall, zookeepers carefully dug up Nigrita's eggs after she laid them and put them in a temperature-controlled incubator where they could be closely monitored. The eggs hatched over a period of 106 to 121 days.
The Zurich Zoo claims to be the only place in Europe where the Galapagos tortoise breeds and successfully reproduces in captivity.
According to National Geographic, these giant tortoises are the longest-lived of all vertebrates, with an average lifespan of more than 100 years. The oldest on record lived to be 152 years old. They are the world's largest tortoises, with some growing longer than 5 feet and weighing more than 550 pounds.
The Zurich Zoo is home to the Swiss Association of Friends of the Galapagos Islands, a group that works to protect the Galapagos tortoise and its habitat.