How we train a tortoise

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How we train a tortoise


A couple weeks ago, when the weather decided to break the 100-degree barrier several days straight, I got to experience a keeper training with the Zoo's aldabra tortoises. (Side note: thank you to our keeper staff for your amazing dedication and hard work through this weather!) During the summer months, guests can watch the tortoise training daily at 2:30 pm.

So how do our keepers train our several-hundred-pound tortoises? 

Training of the animals is done for husbandry purposes, which means working on behaviors that help keepers take better care of the animals. This includes drawing blood, asking them to lift their feet, open their mouth or eyes for medicines, and taking tail blood draws, which requires a lot of trust between the trainer and the animal, as the tail is a vulnerable spot.


Animal keeper Tara Krall trains Barnaby to raise his previously injured foot

Keepers also do target training with a red target, which is used to move the animals indoors, creating less stress for both the keepers and the tortoises. (The animals go inside on nights when the temperature falls below 60 degrees.)


The tortoises also get to enjoy stimulation and enrichment with puzzle feeders, cardboard boxes, and textured items like scrub brushes. These items stimulate them to forage or provide them with new sensory stimulus.


For training, keepers use their diet as their "treats", so this includes various greens (such as romaine, collard or turnips) and various vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes or cucumbers). The tortoises are not fed fruit, as this particular species does not digest it well.


Tara rewards Barnaby with a carrot

The animals are not always trained daily during the winter months, but usually a few times a week at varied times.  


So what happens to the tortoises during the winter months?


You’ve probably seen the new tortoise/penguin building under construction that will be opening soon!


The tortoise/penguin building is almost finished!

This new exhibit will allow you to visit the tortoises year-round, improving the keeper, animal and your Zoo experience:     

  • The holding area features a sand pit, allowing for potential egg laying as well as a great substrate for the tortoises to relax in.
  • There is also a watering hole so the tortoises can soak.
  • The new building enables you as visitors to see the tortoises in the winter time and colder days when normally they would not be outside. The building will be heated in the winter and cooled in the summer.
  • Currently the juvenile tortoises can't be seen outside unless keepers supervise them (this is so they can't escape under the fence, as they are pretty small.) With the new building, you can see these adorable tortoises at all times.

About the Zoo's aldabra tortoises:

  • Barnaby is about 80 years old +/- 10 years and weighs 482 lbs.
  • RT (short for Round Top) is 52 years old and weights 212 lbs.
  • Q is about 35 years old and weighs 254 lbs.
  • The two Juveniles are 7 years old: Quinn (male) is about 22lbs and Kihanni (female) is about 18 lbs. They came to us from another zoo.
  • Barnaby is the oldest and only original inhabitant of Blank Park Zoo.


09/05/2013 10:52 AM |Add a comment |Comments (1)
Fabulous, informative article ....thanks!

Mary Jack | 09/07/2013 4:37 AM
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