By Tim Binnall
For the first time ever, researchers have captured incredible footage of a giant tortoise hunting and eating a baby bird. The jaw-dropping video was reportedly filmed last month by conservationist Anna Zora, who serves as the sustainability manager on Frégate Island, which is part of the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean. In the remarkable scene, the sizeable tortoise can be seen slowly stalking a tern chick that is stuck on a log and unable to fly away. The diminutive bird initially manages to evade the menacing predator; it eventually cannot flee any further and falls victim to the hungry reptile, which snaps down on its head and kills it. Although not seen in the video above, the tortoise was subsequently observed eating the downed chick.
Scientists were understandably stunned by the heretofore unseen behavior exhibited by the giant tortoise as it had been thought to largely subsist on vegetation and was believed to be too slow to hunt prey. To that end, the Director of Biology Studies at the University of Cambridge’s Peterhouse College, Justin Gerlach, marveled that "this was very, very strange, and totally different from normal tortoise behavior. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. it was horrifying and amazing at the same time." Although the giant reptiles had been observed seemingly scavenging meat from dead animals in the past, researchers had thought that those cases were merely instances of opportunity and not the result of the creature having actually hunted down the meal.
However, now scientists are rethinking that assessment in light of the recently documented scene in the Seychelles, especially since it appears that the tortoise was particularly well-versed at pinning down its prey. With that in mind, Gerlach wondered if it was "just an interesting observation at the moment" or if there may be ""a population of tortoises that is developing a new type of behavior with evolutionary implications." Either way, he noted that the animals appear to have developed a taste for tern chicks as hunting them down and eating them requires "quite a lot of trouble" as compared to munching on plants that don't put up the same kind of fight.