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November 3, 2009

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Rare tortoises here for Expo

THEY'RE very large, though rarely seen.

At 35, they're still kids.

And they've been acting rather shy since arriving in Shanghai.

They are a pair of Aldabra tortoises, among the largest tortoises in the world and said to be as rare as pandas.

The government of the Seychelles - Indian Ocean islands off the coast of Africa - presented the two creatures yesterday to the 2010 World Expo.

The tortoises symbolize power, health and longevity, said Philippe Le Gall, Seychelles ambassador to China.

"For us Seychellois, offering a pair of tortoises is giving a part of our living natural heritage. It's a gift from the heart," the ambassador said.

The tortoises will be at the Shanghai Zoo, where they have moved into a 70-square-meter glass room with artificial banana trees and mountains imitating their homeland.

Videos of the reptiles will be shown at the Expo's Seychelles exhibition.

The male tortoise is 50 kilograms, the female 30 kilograms. Both have thick grey shells and are about 120 centimeters in length.

At about 35 years old, each is quite young, given their 250 year-old average life span.

They eat carrot, apple and celery. They have two meals and can eat 5 kilograms of food every day, said Wu Weichun, director of the Amphibian Exhibition Hall of the zoo.

When the tortoises came to the zoo a month ago, they kept to their shells and ate a little bit of vegetable every day. They slept in the daytime and stayed awake at night because of the time difference.

It took the male 10 days to adapt to the Shanghai environment, the female seven days.

Also yesterday, a senior official of the zoo said the 10 pandas for exhibition during the Expo will arrive in January.

Detailed plans are yet to be decided, said Yuan Yaohua, deputy director of the zoo.

Ten "strong and lively" young pandas will be selected from the Ya'an base of the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in the southwestern Sichuan Province.


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