Biggie The Aldabra Tortoise Celebrates 42 Years At Bristol Zoo
December 29, 2017
Biggie, an Aldabra tortoise (Testudo gigantea) has just celebrated 42 years at England’s Bristol Zoo. The estimated 60-year-old tortoise arrived at the zoo on Christmas Eve in 1975. He has been at the zoo longer than any other resident.
"Biggie is a favourite with so many of our visitors,” Senior keeper Adam Davis said on the Bristol Zoo website celebrating Biggie’s anniversary. “No one could imagine Bristol Zoo without him. Everyone seems to love the fact that he is so big, but he is also a gentle giant.”
Biggie is one of four Aldabra tortoises who live at the zoo. Helen, Twiggy and Mike. Mike arrived at the zoo in early December and is 20 years old.
Aldabra tortoises are so named because of where they are found in the wild, the Aldabran Atoll off the coast of the Seychelles. The giant tortoises can weigh up to 500 pounds, making it one of the biggest tortoises in the world. The Galapagos tortoise is bigger. Mostly herbivores, the Aldabra tortoise feeds on grasses, leaves, plants, stems and weeds.
Back Story On Naming Dispute
There was a dispute with regard to the scientific name of the tortoise. It was first named Testudo gigantea in 1812 by German botanist August Friedrich Schweigger. Twenty years later, a pair of French biologists described two species of giant tortoise, one which was called Testudo elephantina and the other called T. gigantea. It was later determined by a third scientist that the two specimens were actually the same species, and the Aldabra tortoise became known as T. gigantea.
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In 1982, another French scientist, Dr. Roger Bour, claimed that the tortoise Schweigger described did not come from Aldabra at all, and said that T. gigantea should be renamed T. elephantina, the name that was given to the tortoise in the 1800s by his fellow French scientists who preceded him. Bour’s proposal caused a rift in the scientific community until 2006, when American biologist Dr. Jack Frazier, who designated a specimen at the Smithsonian museum as the new type specimen for the Aldabra tortoise and gave it the name T. gigantea. Dr. Bour that same year found the missing tortoise first described by Schweigger and continued to claim the tortoise had not come from Aldabra but was from Brazil. Bour then went on to name the tortoise T. dussumieri, after another Frenchman who found a tortoise on Aldabra in the 1800s.
Dr. Frazier continued to lobby for the name T. gigantea and filed a petition with the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), the governing body that arbitrates the scientific names for discovered species. The ICZN gave his petition a case number, 3463, which was handed to ICZN zoologist Svetlana Nikolaeva, who with her colleagues, determined that the tortoise named in the 1800s as T. gigantea will remain Testudo gigantea. However, bickering contiuned, of which you can read more here.