Rosamond Gifford Zoo

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Giant Amazon River Turtle

Podocnemis expansa

The Giant Amazon River turtle, also known as arrau turtle or South American river turtle, is one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world. They are highly aquatic and mainly reside in the Amazon river basins.

Range & Habitat

In the Wild: Found in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins and the islands of Trinidad and Tobago.  They live in rivers, their tributaries, ponds, lagoons and the flooded forests surrounding the rivers.

At the Zoo: USS Antiquities cave, Tropical River Exhibit


Conservation Status: Not Evaluated

Not Evaluated by the IUCN red list; however this species is considered threatened in some habitats due to hunting and fishing. It also has somewhat small populations due to the limited range of the species.


In the Wild: fruits, seeds, leaves, stems, freshwater sponges, eggs, carrion.

At the Zoo: carrots, trout chow, Aquatic carnivore diet, fruit, crickets.

Life Span

In the Wild – 20+ years; In Human Care - About 25 years.

Fun Facts about the Giant Amazon River Turtle

  • Up to 500 turtles lay their eggs on the same beaches each year in clutches ranging in size from 50-180 eggs. On average, one male turtle hatches for every 30 female hatchlings.
  • These turtles live together in groups more than other local turtles. They clean each other by taking turns pulling algae and other debris off each other’s shells.
  • Scientists believe that the gender of a hatchling turtle is dependent upon the temperature in which the egg is incubated. The warmer the nest, the more female hatchlings.  Global warming of just a few degrees could lead to smaller numbers of male hatchlings, causing turtle populations to decline.


Retrieved from the San Diego Zoo:

Retrieved from the National Aquarium:

Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. 1996. Podocnemis expansa (errata version published in 2016). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 1996: e.T17822A97397263. Downloaded on 04 December 2020.

Updated June 13, 2023
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