Scientists captured a shocking moment that has never been seen on camera: a giant “vegetarian” tortoise hunting and eating a baby bird.
The video shows a slow-moving Seychelles giant tortoise deliberately pursuing a tern chick on a log before attacking and killing it with a semi-quick chomp to the neck.
“It’s moving with intent,” said Dr. Justin Gerlach, one of the Cambridge University researchers who uncovered the unusual behavior. “It's focused in on this chick and then it goes in for the kill. It's something which they're just not supposed to do.”
All tortoises were previously believed to be peaceful herbivores, with an occasional nibble off something that’s already dead. This tortoise, on the other, has raised a host of questions for some researchers are eager to dig into.
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“The tortoise is going out of its way to kill this chick, it really wants it,” Gerlach said. “So, it's not a casual thing. We don't know at the moment why it's doing that.”
The viral video, that researchers described as "horrifying," was shot last July on Frégate Island, a privately-owned island in the Seychelles group that is also home to around 3,000 tortoises.
“How many tortoises are doing this,” Gerlach asked. “Only one has been filmed, so far, but is it just a few or is it the whole population?”
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The Cambridge University researchers say that they are unaware if they witnessed a totally new behavior or if itthe re-emergence of a behavior that has occurred in the past.