Adult Forsten’s tortoises are typically about 11-13" and 5 - 6 pounds. Males and Females tend to be about the same size; however females do get a little wider than males and show more of a rounded aspect than the elongated feature of the male. Large scales cover the anterior parts of the tortoise’s front legs, but its hind legs lack this protection. Males’ tails are larger and longer than females’. A small keratinous hook tips the end of the tail. Males also have slightly concave plastrons; females’ plastrons are completely flat. Tremendous color variability occurs in this species.
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Two distinct populations of I. forstenii appear to be on Sulawesi, but they are not discernible by mitochondrial DNA. However, there are distinct, observable differences. Northern populations are larger and lack a nuchal scute. Southern populations are smaller, and many possess a nuchal. Although the absence of a nuchal scute has been heralded as an identifier for I. forstenii, many specimens possess a well-defined nuchal. Forsten’s tortoises lacking nuchal scutes are heavier and longer than those with them, but regardless of the presence of a nuchal, a Forsten’s tortoise is still a Forsten’s.
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The Forstens tortoise is a very deep dry rain forest dweller. This species is a very peculiar species in its native thickly forested locations. Forstens tend to live in very deep in the Southeast Asian rain forest on the Celebs, and in Sulawesi. The terrain is very thick, dark and rough. There are some grasslands, but very few. The Forstens does not inhabit the grasslands there though. This species is crepuscular in nature, tending to be most active in the early evenings, and very early mornings.
The shell’s base color is generally caramel-colored to dark yellowish-brown with blotches of black on each scute, but some tortoises appear totally caramel-colored and others nearly completely black. The unarmored skin is gray to yellow, and the head is yellow-tan except in breeding season. Both sexes take on a pinkish color around the nostrils and eyes at this time. Its large eyes are well-adapted to low-light levels.
Put an attractive, relatively large animal on a small island and allow export, and the invariable result is a decline in the animal’s population. Found only on the Indonesian islands of Sulawesi and Halmahera, the Forsten’s tortoise is categorized as Endangered by the World Conservation Union. The species has undergone an estimated population decline of 70 percent within the last three generations mostly due to local consumption and export for the pet trade. This species finds it relatively difficult to adapt to captivity and has posed many complications in captive breeding conservation; although there has been positive some increase in success over the years.