90-year-old tortoise named Mr. Pickles welcomes three babies
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A 90-year-old tortoise named Mr. Pickles just welcomed three hatchlings at the Houston Zoo. The births of the three babies were possible because a zookeeper was at the right place at the right time, the zoo said.
Mr. Pickles, a radiated tortoise native to Madagascar, is the oldest animal at the zoo and has been there for 36 years. He met his longtime companion, Mrs. Pickles, when she arrived at the zoo 27 years ago.
A herpetology keeper recently saw Mrs. Pickles laying eggs just as the zoo was about to close. The eggs were quickly recovered by the animal care team, and taken to the Reptile and Amphibian House at the zoo, because the soil in Houston isn’t conducive for incubating Madagascar-native tortoises eggs.
If the zookeeper hadn’t seen the newly hatched eggs, these endangered babies might not have been born, the zoo said.
Mr. Pickles and Mrs. Pickles only had one previous hatchling in 1997. Tortoises are critically endangered and don’t often produce offspring, the Zoo said.
Radiated tortoises are found in dry brushlands, thorn forests and woodlands of southern Madagascar, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Females usually lay three to 12 eggs at a time and can live between 40 and 50 years. Being collected and sold in the illegal pet trade is one of the reasons they are endangered, according to the zoo.
Due to their exploitation and overall habitat loss, there is expected to be an 80% decrease in their population over three generations, according to The International Union for Conservation of Nature. A conservative estimate of their total population is 1.6 million to 4 million.
Mr. Pickles is crucial to the conservation plan for this species in the U.S. He is the most genetically valuable radiated tortoise, according to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan, which helps zoos coordinate breeding and animal transfer plans.
The three new tortoises born at the Houston Zoo were aptly named Dill, Gherkin and Jalapeño. They will continue to be cared for at the Reptile and Amphibian House until they are old enough to join their parents.
CBS News has reached out to the zoo for more information and is awaiting response.