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Zoo's leopard tortoise 'love match' produces first

Zoo's leopard tortoise 'love match' produces first for Australasian region

A confirmed bachelor until he moved in with two females at Auckland Zoo two and a half years ago, 44-year-old leopard tortoise Oupa (Afrikaans for "old man") has become a dad.

Baby leopard tortoise Opunye, who hatched a month ago today, is the result of a 'romance' between Oupa and 10-year old Kopje. Opunye's was the only fertile egg to hatch in the second clutch laid by Kopje in the past year. Along with the zoo's other female, Ufutu, Oupa and Kopje are the only leopard tortoises in zoological institutions in the Australasian region.

The birth of Opunye (Zulu for "number one") now brings that total to four, for this African species, which, being “threatened by trade”, places it in CITES’ (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix 11 category.

Kopje and Ufutu came to Auckland Zoo in 1996 after being confiscated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) at Wellington Airport. Oupa, possibly the world's most well travelled tortoise, was gifted to Auckland Zoo in 2002 by Mrs Eleanor Hannah, who was given Oupa as a Christmas present in 1958 while living in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Daughter Elizabeth and a friend, who were at boarding school in Cape Town, carried him with them on their four-day train journey home for the holiday break, leaping out of the train when it stopped, to collect grass. Oupa moved in with 19 tortoises and numerous other creatures in Eleanor Hannah’s garden. Eighty-seven-year-old Eleanor Hannah says Oupa travelled throughout Africa, and to the United Kingdom before travelling by boat to New Zealand with Oupa, her children, two dogs and various other animals, in 1965. The Hannahs lived in Dunedin, but frequently holidayed in Wanaka and Queenstown, joined of course, by Oupa.

"Because we were getting on in years and knew that Oupa could easily live another 40 - 50 years, it seemed only fair that we find him a new home," says Eleanor Hannah, who along with her husband, now also lives in Auckland.

"I saw Opunye at just a day old, and it really gave me such a warm feeling, and a sense of being immortal, because this little one, like Oupa, will survive us," she laughs.

"All those years of looking after Oupa and getting him round the world have been worth it. I was always hoping that I would live long enough to see his babies. I'll be 88 this year, and Oupa's been part of my live for 44 years, so it's very special," says Eleanor Hannah.

Auckland Zoo reptile keeper Mike Harvey says the fact that Oupa had previously had a male Congo tortoise as company while living at the Hannahs, meant he was conditioned to like company, and adjusted relatively quickly to life with two young females.

Newborn Opunye, who now weighs around 24 grams, is being kept in a small off-display enclosure, where the temperature remains comfortably tropical. This enclosure will be home for the yet-to-be-sexed Opunye for the immediate future. The zoo’s adult leopard tortoises can be viewed at their large outdoor enclosure within the zoo's African Hippo River area.

The gestation period for leopard tortoises is on average, around 120 days. Both Ufutu and Kopje have been observed mating with Oupa in the past few weeks, and Mike Harvey says it is quite possible further clutches could be laid this summer.

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