One of my very favorite animals here at the Academy is Art, our Giant South American turtle (Podocnemis expansa). Her name is an acronym for another common name given to this species: Arrau river turtle. Reaching over 3 feet long and weighing over 150 pounds these turtles are the largest of the South American river turtles and the largest members of the side-necked family Pelomedusidae. This means they have an extra-long neck that, instead of pulling straight back like most other turtles, they must fold sideways under their shell for concealment.
Below is a picture from last summer of Biologists Nancy Levine and Brooke Weinstein releasing Art into her new home here at the Academy:
This species is widely distributed in Amazonia, yet centuries of exploitation for their meat, eggs, leather, oil and supposed medicinal importance have rendered it Endangered. Their meat is so highly regarded in the local cuisine that hunters and fishermen will go to great lengths to capture them; in the illegal game market a single large specimen can fetch as much as would normally be earned over several months. Like the giant marine turtles they migrate in large numbers to specific beaches to lay eggs in the sand, making them particularly vulnerable to poaching. Below is a graphic picture of an Arrau head and meat for sale at a traditional market in Peru, taken by Biologist Brian Freiermuth:
Other factors negatively impacting this species in the wild include habitat destruction from both urban and industrial development, alterations to the water cycle from logging and damming, and climate change.
Art is on a temporary loan to us from another AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) facility so don’t miss the chance to see this amazing and rare animal! A powerful swimmer, she can usually be seen cruising around or foraging for algae and plant detritus on the sandy bottom. She seems to be really loving life in her new 110,000 gallon home!