Giant Tortoises Once Roamed Luzon. What Happened to Them?


Once upon a time, great carapaced reptiles roamed the lands of Luzon. Giant tortoises walked alongside stegodons in what is now Rizal and Cagayan. The Luzon giant tortoise (Megalochelys sondaari) inhabited these parts 2.58 million years ago, but vanished approximately 1.7 million years ago. 

According to the National Museum of the Philippines, the reptiles had bony plates. The first evidence of its existence was unearthed by archaeologists in 1971. 

The first remains found of this giant reptile were pieces of the carapace discovered at Espinosa Ranch, Liwan, Kalinga-Apayao (now Rizal, Kalinga) in 1971, and in San Juan, Tuao, Cagayan in 1976,” wrote the National Museum

Photo by Dmitrii Kash.

At the time, scientists were unsure of what they found, until another set of fossils were discovered in 1989 in Antipolo. It was German geologist Walter Schoell and Filipino geologist Alyssa Peleo-Alampay who unearthed several fossilized bones in the city. 

The fossils include parts of the long bone of the upper arm, thigh bone, digits from the reptile’s feet, and fragments of its carapace. The infographic provided by the National Museum shows a size comparison between the Luzon giant tortoise and M. atlas,  another prehistoric tortoise found in India, Myanmar, and Thailand. 



Photo by National Museum of the Philippines.

What happened to the giant tortoise of Luzon?

The Luzon giant tortoise started to disappear at the time when prehistoric humans began inhabiting the islands of the Philippines. 

“It is believed that the local extinction of giant Megalochelys tortoises from various islands in the Indo-Autralian archipelago is linked to the migratory arrival of the early hominin, Homo erectus, and their subsequent overexploitation of the animal,” the National Museum writes 

Today, many species of turtles and tortoises could also disappear forever because of habitat loss, the illegal pet trade, and excessive consumption for food and traditional medicine that have unproven health benefits.

The fossils found in Antipolo and Cagayan are kept at the National Museum of Natural History in Manila. They serve as reminders of the importance of conservation. 

“Today, many species of turtles and tortoises could also disappear forever because habitat loss, the illegal pet trade, and extensive consumption for food and traditional medicine,” the National Museum says. 

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