Melbourne Zoo's Oldest Residents Put Their Feet Up For Healthcare

23 February 2021

Melbourne Zoo’s oldest residents are showing that age isn’t a barrier when it comes to learning how to look after your health.

Aldabra Giant Tortoises Wilbur, Little John and Jean, aged between 60 and 110 years old, have been helping keepers
care for them by participating in foot checks.

The tortoises, who weigh up to 200kg each, have been trained to lift up their feet and allow keepers to check for cracks and dryness, which helps in monitoring the fitness and health of these massive reptiles.

“As part of their ongoing healthcare plan, we want to make sure they’re always going to be healthy and fit,” said Reptile keeper Raelene Hobbs.

“One way of us doing that is making sure we provide them with choice and control to participate in their healthcare.

“They are starting to age and, as part of that, we would expect to start seeing things like cracks and dryness of the feet, or scutes coming off. So we like to check them quite regularly.”

The health check utilises a target training program, developed by keepers over the past 15 years, that associates some of the tortoises’ favourite foods with a red target - one of the few colours giant tortoises are able to see. This encourages the tortoises to present their feet for inspection.

“It’s a wonderful program,” Ms Hobbs said. “They pick it up really easily. The moment I show them that red target, they switch straight back into it.”

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. These tortoises are listed as vulnerable in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List, after suffering the effects of poaching and destruction of habitat.

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