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Meet the Super-Cute, Mega-Endangered Spider Tortoise

Tortoises are great. That’s just a fact. Don’t believe us? Look at these tortoises eating fruit and tiny pancakes

Still not sold? Here is a tortoise presenting its neck for chin scratches

All right. Now that you’re on board, let’s talk about spider tortoises (Pyxis arachnoides). All three subspecies of spider tortoise live in a small stretch of sandy coastal land in southwestern Madagascar. There’s really nothing spidery about them—these tortoises get their name from the pretty, web-like patterns on their shells. They’re teeny for tortoises, too. The largest will only grow to about eight inches long.

Like the rest of their hard-shelled relatives, spider tortoises are survivors. In the dry season, when there’s nothing to eat and not much to do, they simply bury themselves in the sand and wait for the rains to come. But being tough is not going to be enough to get them out of their current predicament. Spider tortoises have been classified as Critically Endangered since 2008, and scientists estimate that without intervention, they’ll be extinct in 60 to 80 years. 

There’s no single threat responsible for the spider tortoise’s decline. Like many endangered species, these reptiles are getting it from all sides. They’re smuggled as part of the exotic pet trade, they’re hunted for their meat (meager though it may be), and their habitat is being destroyed. 

But it’s not all bad news for these leathery little cuties. Organizations like the Turtle Survival Alliance are working to protect the tortoises’ habitat and even start a breeding colony. So take heart, tortoise lovers. There's still something you can do.

Header image from YouTube // Great Big Story 

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Courtesy of The National Aviary
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Animals
Watch This Live Stream to See Two Rare Penguin Chicks Hatch From Their Eggs
Courtesy of The National Aviary
Courtesy of The National Aviary

Bringing an African penguin chick into the world is an involved process, with both penguin parents taking turns incubating the egg. Now, over a month since they were laid, two penguin eggs at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are ready to hatch. As Gizmodo reports, the baby birds will make their grand debut live for the world to see on the zoo's website.

The live stream follows couple Sidney and Bette in their nest, waiting for their young to emerge. The first egg was laid November 7 and is expected to hatch between December 14 and 18. The second, laid November 11, should hatch between December 18 and 22.

"We are thrilled to give the public this inside view of the arrival of these rare chicks," National Aviary executive director Cheryl Tracy said in a statement. "This is an important opportunity to raise awareness of a critically endangered species that is in rapid decline in the wild, and to learn about the work that the National Aviary is doing to care for and propagate African penguins."

African penguins are endangered, with less than 25,000 pairs left in the wild today. The National Aviary, the only independent indoor nonprofit aviary in the U.S., works to conserve threatened populations and raise awareness of them with bird breeding programs and educational campaigns.

After Sidney and Bette's new chicks are born, they will care for them in the nest for their first three weeks of life. The two penguins are parenting pros at this point: The monogamous couple has already hatched and raised three sets of chicks together.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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iStock

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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