An extension area to the giant tortoise exhibit at Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire has prompted keepers to develop a new training programme to help bring these slow moving creatures indoors.
Zoo Keeper, Ryan Berry, said: “The new extension area is a great addition to the giant tortoise exhibit. They have much more room to roam outdoors, and the various substrates give our trio of Aldabra tortoises an enriched environment designed to stimulate them day to day.
“We knew the outdoor extension would prove more challenging for us to bring the tortoises indoors for the evening. They are very slow moving animals, plodding along at less than one mile per hour.”
Working closely with the Zoo’s Animal Training Manager, keepers were able to develop a positive reinforcement training programme to enable the tortoises to make it back to their indoor area by themselves in a shorter timescale.
Kris Hern said: “We began the training roughly six months ahead of the extension area being completed, using a target and the tortoises’ favourite foods. We held the target a few centimetres in front of them and when they touched it with their nose we gave a verbal bridge ‘good’ and fed them a piece of food; we then moved the target further away and repeated the process which encouraged them to move along at a steady pace. As the behaviour got stronger we gradually increased the distance between them and the target.
The training has also proved beneficial for health checks on these slow moving animals.
Kris said: “When we hold the target above the tortoises’ head they will stretch up tall with their necks to reach it which enables us to place a mirror underneath them for our vet team to check their undercarriage for any health issues.
Twycross Zoo cares for three Aldabra tortoises: Tim aged 40, Shelly 30 and Speedy aged 70.
Ryan added: “It has been a very slow process. We anticipate the training will carry on throughout the summer until our tortoises really get the hang of it but the patience of the team has really paid off so far. “Despite his name, Speedy is always the last one in at the end of the day. We expect this is down to being older and wiser!”
Sharon Redrobe, Zoological Director, commented: “The species is one of the largest tortoise species on earth and they are amazing to watch. Although we are known for our primate collection, I am delighted we have enlarged their home and training them as we do our monkeys, although it takes a lot longer and more patience from the keepers.”
Twycross Zoo’s new outdoor tortoise exhibit is now open to the public from 10am daily.