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Melbourne Zoo

No giant feat when moving a tortoise

7 March 2019

Transporting a Giant Tortoise across Melbourne Zoo’s extensive property requires innovation - and a sturdy forklift.

Little John, one of three Aldabra Giant Tortoises who call Melbourne Zoo home, took a morning ride on the forklift in his custom-designed transport case, from an enclosure with fellow male Wilbur, to another on the other side of the Zoo with female tortoise Jean.

Reptile keeper Adam Lee said moving Little John was both a breeding opportunity for the pair and also contributed significantly to the reptiles’ social and environmental enrichment.

“By rotating the tortoises around, they not only experience different social dynamics, but also promotes different feeding behaviours,” said Mr Lee.

“Putting them in a new enclosure can stimulate investigatory behaviours – they’re exposed to different grass and browse types to eat, as well as fruits from the nearby fig tree, which provides a natural fibre for them.”

Another benefit for Little John at his couples retreat is the new automated shower, an innovation dreamt up by Melbourne Zoo keepers and funded by an internal scheme.

“Through Zoos Victoria’s ‘Willy Wonka’ program, we have been able to implement ways to encourage more natural behaviours for the Giant Tortoises, including dynamic feeding trees so we can hang up browse and fruit, as well as the motion-activated shower,” Mr Lee said.

“The tortoises now have a choice to go into the shower, rather than us hosing them down on a hot day.

“The shower also helps with the condition of the tortoises’ skin, which we also support with an alpha-keri oil applied once a month to make sure their shells don’t dry out.

“As far as we know we’re the only facility with a motion-activated shower for the Giant Tortoise.”

While Little John, 100, and Jean, 80,  are yet to produce any offspring in their 7 years of courting, keepers are hoping that by ensuring that Little John is always squeaky clean that this could be their year.

“While we’re at the end of the breeding season for Giant Tortoises, we’re still hoping to get some breeding opportunities in for Jean and Little John.”

Aldabra Giant Tortoises are one of a few surviving species of Giant Tortoise left in the wild and have been estimated to live up to 200 years.

Aldabra Giant Tortoises are listed as vulnerable in the wild and are now protected, historically suffering the effects of poaching and destruction of habitat. A visit to Melbourne Zoo is a chance to learn more about the plight of these beautiful creatures and be inspired to take action.