90-year-old, critically endangered tortoise becomes a father for the first time

Tortoises are known for their very long lifespans. At ages that humans would consider very, very old, many tortoises are still going strong.

Just look at Mr. Pickles, who at the ripe old age of 90 reached a surprising milestone: he became a dad for the first time!

The unexpected news comes from the Houston Zoo, who report that Mr. Pickles, a radiated tortoise who is their oldest animal, just became a father to three newborn hatchlings.

Jackelin Reyna/Houston Zoo

According to a press release, the zoo said the hatchlings “came as a surprise,” discovered after a herpetology keeper noticed “Mrs. Pickles” laying her eggs at closing time.

The animal care team leapt into action and relocated the eggs to the Reptile & Amphibian House. “The soil in Houston isn’t hospitable to the Madagascar native tortoises, and it’s unlikely the eggs would have hatched on their own if the keeper hadn’t been in the right place at the right time,” the zoo wrote.

Jackelin Reyna/Houston Zoo

The new hatchlings are currently being kept behind the scenes until they are old enough to safely join their parents.

The three hatchlings have been given appropriately pickle-themed names: Jalapeño, Dill and Gherkin. Jalapeño has the darkest shell; Dill and Gherkin have lighter shells but Gherkin is the one with the white dot in the center:

Jackelin Reyna/Houston Zoo

In addition to being quite a surprise given Mr. Pickles’ old age, it’s also great news because the radiated tortoise is a critically endangered species: native to Madagascar, they are threatened by the illegal pet trade and produce few offspring.

The Houston Zoo described their arrival as a “big deal” that will help the species’ survival. They described new dad Mr. Pickles as “the most genetically valuable radiated tortoise” in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan.

Mr. Pickles has been at the zoo for 36 years, and has been with his companion Mrs. Pickles since her arrival in 1996.

A portion of each Houston Zoo membership and admission goes towards the zoo’s partners in Madagascar to help replant wildlife habitat to save animals in the wild.

What incredible news! Congrats to Mr. Pickles on becoming a new dad at 90, and congrats to the Houston Zoo on the birth of these critically endangered newborns!

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