Yellow-footed Tortoise…Chelonoidis denticulata. Amazon Tortoise.

Yellow-footed Tortoise Scientific name: Chelonoidis denticulata

The Yellow-footed Tortoise was a frequent walker of the Rainforest trails. In some areas in the Brazilian Amazon the tortoise is becoming rare and is endangered, because they are considered a food delicacy by the locals, but in my forest they could be frequently seen.
These reptiles can grow to 94cm, but the tortoise I saw were much smaller. They fed on foliage, fruit, carrion and small, slow moving animals such as worms, beetles and snails.
The rainforest is thickly wooded, damp, hot and humid. The tortoises thrived in such an environment.
One sad encounter I had with a tortoise, was after a bonfire. We had cleared the area around the lodge. The piles of leaves were set alight in the evening and the next day, whilst digging in the ashes to enrich the soil, I found an empty shell.
Somehow, I don’t think the living tortoise got caught in the fire. Large Tegu lizards lived around the lodge and they are tortoise predators, so I think the shell was empty already. That’s what I told myself, but I was careful to dig around the piles of leaves next time we had a bonfire.
The first two photos are of a Yellow-footed Tortoise seen on a forest path. Note the mites embedded in the tortoise shell. The next two photos are of the Northern Tegu Lizard.
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Reptiles of the Amazon Rainforest. A fifth of worlds reptiles at risk of extinction.

Research by the Zoological Society has found that a fifth of the worlds reptiles are at risk of extinction. The thought fills me with despair.
The Amazon Rainforest alone has three hundred and seventy eight species of reptiles, including varieties of; Caiman, lizards, geckos, skinks, tortoise, turtles and snakes. These fascinating creatures are necessary for the healthy ecology of a forest. They are an essential part of many food webs providing food for big predators as well as being hunters themselves.
Below are my personal observations and experiences.

Reptiles seen as food:
Yellow-headed sideneck turtle (Podocnemis unifilis):The turtle in the photo was being readied for the cooking pot. That is one of the problems with being a turtle or tortoise in the Amazon. Apparently these animals are tasty and that is leading to their demise in many areas. I frequently saw much larger turtles being openly killed, sold or prepared for the pot.
The Yellow-footed Tortoise( Chelonoidis denticulata): too, is at risk of disappearing thanks to local appetites.
There are laws in place to protect these animals, but the Amazon is a mighty huge place and trying to implement the law is virtually impossible. Only education and community awareness and self-regulation can work.

Reptiles-Lizards, at risk because of changes to their environment caused by deforestation and agriculture:
Northern Tegus and Ameiva lizards.(Tupinambis and Ameiva ameiva)
Already an Ameiva lizard, Ameiva Vittata, only found in a small area of Bolivia, is now thought to be extinct. Ameiva lizards are often beautiful. They come in a variety of colours, the aqua-blue and leaf-green variety are stunning. They are appropriately known as jungle runners. They race through the undergrowth at great speed when disturbed
I could hear them daily about the lodge area. A rustle of leaves, a movement of grasses and suddenly they would tear across the ground and disappear beneath a shrub. As they got used to me they became much calmer and would stop and listen when I spoke to them.
The brown and gold lizards, skinks, that spent a whole day copulating in my bedroom took no notice of me at all. Even when I lay in my hammock for an afternoon siesta and watched them, the male continued to cling to the leg of the female in an amorous embrace.
Their confidence in my harmlessness was not misplaced. I was only too happy to leave them in peace.
Geckos, Hemidactylus frenatus.
These tiny geckos used to stand stock still if noticed. Their bulbous eyes held a look of surprise. When their courage failed them they would shoot off into the shadows.
Amazon lizards are generally not harmful to people, but snakes all to often are. So I gave snakes a wide berth. I often saw Feu-de-lance. These deadly little snakes seemed to like the corner of my bedroom. They were quickly removed by locals, but their favourite corner was always the first thing I looked out for when I entered my room.
Most reptiles eat insects, fruit, vegetables, birds eggs, birds, worms, grubs and caterpillars. Caiman and snakes eat smaller animals. The Northern Tegu, a heavily muscled and handsome lizard, hung around like a dog after lunch waiting for meaty tit-bits from our plate.
I cannot imagine the rainforest without its many reptiles. It would appear barren. Devoid of life. It is a frightening vision.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/15/reptile-species-face-extinction

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Amazon:Dolphin, Anaconda & Caiman as food.

One afternoon a local fisherman brought a baby Bottle-nosed Dolphin to show me, then he placed it in the bottom of his canoe. I asked him to let it go and he promised he would, but dolphin meat is good to eat, I hear, and to use for fishing bait, so sadly I doubt he did.
I had to put aside my own expectations when faced with the behaviour of the locals. To them dolphins are big fish. Food which will feed their families for a few days, not the beautiful, intelligent animals with protected rights that I saw.
On my return to the lodge earlier in my trip I was asked did I want the good news or the bad. “Good,” I said hopefully. There had been seen the previous month: three Jaguars in the forest, a male, and a mother and her cub, and three Giant Otters had been seen in the waterfall area, I was told.
Overjoyed, and with my nascent Portuguese missing the past tense, I now asked tentatively for the bad news. The large, male Jaguar had been shot dead by a group of local men from a neighbouring forest several miles away. The big cat had taken a pet dog and some domesticated pigs, so had been hunted down by a band of local men and dispatched with a bullet. And the three otters had also been killed, why was not explained to me.
My first response was anger, but then after a few hours of thought I realised why they had done this, even though it hurt to recognise it. They had bought the piglets in town, with limited funds, fed them and nurtured them into plump adulthood and the big cat had made off with their investment and the families dinner, not to mention the family pet.
As for the otters, I could get no explanation for their deaths. I don’t think they are eaten, but maybe they are competition for dwindling fish-stocks in the dry season and I hear their pelts can be sold for a good price.
I learnt in the Rainforest that putting myself in another’s shoes hurts. Western values don’t fit well, or at all, into some cultures. Animals that we value, such as Turtles, Tortoise and Dolphins, or that we find zoologically interesting, ie Caiman and Anaconda, are simply food to my forest neighbours.

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Yellow-footed Tortoise. Chelonoidis denticulata + mites.

Yellow-footed Tortoise Scientific name: Chelonoidis denticulata

The Yellow-footed Tortoise was a frequent walker of the Rainforest trails. In some areas in the Brazilian Amazon the tortoise is becoming rare and is endangered, because they are considered a food delicacy by the locals, but in my forest they could be frequently seen.
They can grow to 94cm, but the tortoise I saw were much smaller. They fed on foliage, fruit, carrion and small, slow moving animals such as worms, beetles and snails.
The rainforest is thickly wooded, damp, hot and humid. The tortoises thrived in such an environment.
One sad encounter I had with a tortoise, was after a bonfire. We had cleared the area around the lodge. The piles of leaves were set alight in the evening and the next day, whilst digging in the ashes to enrich the soil, I found an empty shell.
Somehow, I don’t think the living tortoise got caught in the fire. Large Tegu lizards lived around the lodge and they are tortoise predators, so I think the shell was empty already. That’s what I told myself, but I was careful to dig around the piles of leaves next time we had a bonfire.
The first two photos are of a Yellow-footed Tortoise seen on a forest path. Note the mites embedded in the tortoise shell. The next two photos are of the Northern Tegu Lizard.
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