Tortoises growing faster than Latvia's economy

There was relief among Latvia's reptile-watching community Tuesday with news that two Galapagos tortoises at Riga Zoo have gained weight.

At a traditional weighing of the tortoises ceremony presided over by Riga mayor Nils Usakovs, it was established by means of hefty weighing scales that 23-year old shelled attention-seekers Trina and Celsija have piled on the pounds during the last 12 months.

Defense minister Raimonds Bergmanis - a former World's Strongest Man competitor - was also on hand to serve as chief tortoise-wrangler and to provide protection should either of the testy Testudinidae turn nasty or make a dash for freedom. He had troops as back-up, too.

Member of Parliament Ingmars Lidaka was also there - as when he's not being an elected representative of the people, he is a zoo keeper. Such is Latvia's amazing democracy.

Celsija’s weight has risen from 85 kilograms to 89.5 kilograms since last year, and Trina’s weight has grown by an incredible 12 kilograms from 92 koligrams to 104 kilograms.

Thus both tortoises are growing faster than Latvia's economy, which is expected to expand by a modest 2% this year.

However they have some eating to do before catching up with expansion rate of Latvia's defense budget, which swelled 40% this year.

The tortoises were among the first foreign immigrants to arrive in Latvia from their isolated Pacific isles following the restoration of independence in 1991.

Setting up home in 1995 weighing a slimline 40 kilograms, since then they have grown steadily, as living organisms with a regular supply of nutrition and an aversion to strenuous exercise are wont to do.

The annual weighing event aims to attract public attention to environmental problems, with the added excitement of seeing whether the defense minister, fresh from an anti-ISIS meeting in Washington, might slip a disc as he lifts the naturalized Latvian citizens onto the scales.

The Galapagos tortoises, turned into ecological superstars by the extensive publicity afforded to them by Charles Darwin in the 19th century are native to the Galapagos Islands, as the name hints.

Only ten subspecies of the original fifteen survive in the wild, though this tendency towards extinction is to some extent compensated by their remarkably long lives if they can avoid being turned into soup or grotesque furniture by Victorians.

While at the zoo, Riga mayor Usakovs also took advantage of the opportunity to handle a beaver and tweeted his pleasure at having ticked this ambition off his personal bucket list.


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