In the fable of the tortoise and the hare, "slow and steady wins the race" held true for the lumbering reptile. But in the race against extinction, the plodding tortoise may be losing.
That's the theme of a new book, The Last Tortoise, by American biologist Craig Stanford, who argues that the amazing adaptations that have kept these animals around for so long may not be enough to outlast their biggest threat: human predation.
Stanford, a professor of biology and anthropology at the University of Southern California, described on CBC Radio's Quirks & Quarks the many reasons why these strange and wonderful creatures are threatened.
Their evolutionary adaptations such as longevity and slow reproduction rates, which have helped them survive for millions of years, may now be working against them in the face of human predation.
Their habitat is being destroyed; they are a food delicacy harvested in many Asian countries; and the trade in tortoises for pets is lucrative and difficult to control.
The outlook may be bleak at present, but with greater awareness, changing government policies and the growth of eco-tourism, Stanford believes the tortoise's slide to extinction is reversible.