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The yellow-footed tortoise is native to the tropical regions and rain forests of South America. It inhabits many countries, including Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, Columbia, and some Caribbean islands. Reaching a length of 30 inches (76 cm), the yellow-footed tortoise is the largest in South America. It is often confused with the red-footed tortoise, but can be differentiated by the color of scales on the front legs. A red-footed tortoise has red scales and brighter coloration overall, while a yellow-footed tortoise has yellow scales on its legs.
Females are larger than males. They can lay between six and 16 eggs each year, although they might not breed every year. The larger the female, the greater the number of eggs she will produce.
Their eggs are brittle and 1 to 2 inches (3 to 6 cm) long. Baby turtles are around 2 inches (6 cm) long when they hatch. Parents do not care for the young, so the baby tortoises are on their own as soon as they emerge from the eggs. They will reach maturity within 8 to 10 years, and can live for another 40 to 50 years beyond that.
Yellow-footed tortoises are omnivores. They eat mushrooms, leaves, grass, fruit, and carcasses. Although they move too slowly to catch most small creatures, these tortoises occasionally are able to catch and eat slow-moving bugs and snails.
The yellow-footed tortoise is listed as an endangered species. Its main predator is man. These tortoises are considered a delicacy in South America where they are used as food. The Catholic Church has listed the yellow-footed tortoise as a fish, so many of these tortoises are eaten on the days when meat is forbidden. They are also hunted in large quantities to be traded around the world.
Yellow-footed tortoises are friendly and have become popular pets for tortoise fanciers. Owners report that these tortoises will come when called and like to be petted. They are easy to care for and thrive on a diet of fruits, vegetables, and protein. Since they are natives of a warm climate, when in captivity their enclosures must be kept warm or they will develop respiratory problems.
These tortoises can be shy and will adapt better to captivity if they have shelters to rest in. Since the yellow-footed tortoise is susceptible to parasites in the wild, it is recommended that they only be purchased from a reputable supplier. It is also suggested that a veterinarian examine a fecal sample of a new pet yellow-footed tortoise for parasites.