Trinidad and Tobago’s indigenous animals: Red-footed tortoise

A red-footed tortoise at the El Socorro Centre for Wildlife Conservation in Freeport - Marvin Hamilton
A red-footed tortoise at the El Socorro Centre for Wildlife Conservation in Freeport - Marvin Hamilton

The red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria) is one of two species of tortoises found in TT.

So, how does it distinguish itself from the yellow-footed tortoise?

Apart from being smaller in size, the scales found on the red-footed tortoise’s legs are also different in colour.

“They have bright orange to red scales on the front legs and that’s where they get the name red-footed tortoise,” said Aleeyah Amanda Ali in a recent interview with Newsday Kids.

Ali is the founder of the Our Heritage Learning Resource Centre, Nature and Animal Sanctuary in Santa Rosa, Arima.

As part of her work with the sanctuary, Ali has created a special unit which rescues and rehabilitates red-footed tortoises.

She’s also created “Redzi the Trini Clown” which is an educational ambassador that visits schools to share information about these tortoises.

A land-dwelling reptile, red-footed tortoises can be found in forests, savannahs or along water ways but are mainly found in the transitional areas between forests and savannahs.

To keep hydrated, they often soak in water.

“They soak in the water and their bodies are designed to absorb moisture below the neck, leg and tails,” Ali said.

When a female tortoise nests, it can lay up to 15 eggs which can take up to 150 days to incubate (the time before the eggs are ready to hatch).

If you are fortunate enough to come across a red-footed tortoise in the wild and witness their beauty, the best thing you can do is leave them in their natural habits.

Over the years, these tortoises have become endangered in TT – which means there are a few in the wild – because they have been over hunted for their meat.

This is worrying because every species has a role in the ecosystem.

The tortoise is a scavenger, which means it feeds on dead carcasses, and it helps recycle nutrients in its habitats.

“They are also seed dispersers. They walk a wide range so, when they excrete waste, they disperse the seeds of the fruit they eat," Ali said.

“Seeing they live in the forest, they feed on fruits that have fallen on the forest floor.”

Apart from being endangered, these tortoises should not be kept as pets because their natural habitats and diets are not easy to recreate.

Ali said, “People trap them in their yards, and they end up with all types of health issues.

“Most people think they are not meat eaters, but they are. Apart from mushrooms, they also get protein from the dead carcasses they feed on.

“They also eat things like roaches, mealworms and the larvae from different types of wood beetles.”

Red-footed tortoises are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means people are not allowed to export these tortoises from their home country without a permit.

If you want to know more about the red-footed tortoise, you can send an email to Aleeyah Amanda Ali at


"Trinidad and Tobago’s indigenous animals: Red-footed tortoise"

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