A Wichita tortoise brings the crunch to the BBC
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world poker Wichita’s newest radio star is a lettuce-loving tortoise with a crunchy sound.
ignition poker site A recording of Malala, a Russian tortoise with a taste for traviso, was featured Monday on the British Broadcasting Corp.’s world radio service.
“She’s a total international star,” laughed Malala’s owner, Emily Schlenker. “It was surreal.”
Schlenker — who also has about a dozen birds of different types — is especially sensitive to pet sounds. Blind since birth, she can sense light and darkness but not see shapes.
She was lying in bed at about 4:50 a.m, dozing and half-listening to the BBC while waking up, when she heard the distinctive sound of Malala chomping.
At first, she was perplexed.
“I was like, ‘Malala’s not eating, I didn’t feed her anything,’” Schlenker said. “I didn’t know if she was eating her decor in her enclosure or what was going on, so I woke wide up.
“And then I heard the guy on the BBC: ‘That was from Emily Schlenker in Wichita, Kansas, and this is her Russian tortoise eating lettuce.’”
Schlenker said she had recorded the sound of Malala eating Traviso, a sort of long-leafed red lettuce, because she thought it was funny.
“I always enjoy listening to Malala eat her foods, because different greens have different chomps, they make different sounds,” Schlenker said. “And when you’re blind, like, I enjoy a lot of things about my pets that sighted people don’t think about.”
She sent the recording to the BBC via e-mail on a lark about three weeks ago.
“I knew that BBC has this ‘Soundscape’ thing that they do where they play really interesting sounds from all over the world, so I just sent it off just for fun,” she said. “I thought, OK, maybe somebody will enjoy this. But I didn’t think they would actually play it. That is just so funny to me.”
Malala is a rescue project for Schlenker, a pre-med student at Wichita State University.
She bought the tortoise in August from a local pet store, undersized and malnourished.
The store had her in an enclosure with a larger tortoise that ate almost all of the food. And the food itself wasn’t the greens, weeds and flowers that tortoises need to thrive, but vegetables such as carrots, green beans and squash, she said.
Russian tortoises are native throughout Central Asia and range into other countries, including Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The ones sold in pet shops are captured in the wild and shipped overseas in crowded crates, Schlenker said.
They’re a popular pet export because they’re hardy critters from a harsh environment and can take a lot of abuse without dying, she said.
Schlenker studied up on tortoise care and created a habitat for Malala in a kiddie pool in her bedroom. Since then, Malala’s doubled in size and is a lot more active with a much better appetite, she said.
In fact, the hardest part of making the audio recording was keeping the tortoise from trying to eat the phone, Schlenker said.
Tortoises live 40-50 years in captivity and Schlenker said she fully expects to leave Malala to her 13-year-old daughter, Sophia.
Schlenker named her tortoise after Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani-born schoolgirl who was gravely wounded at age 15 by a Taliban gunman for defying the terrorists and advocating on the BBC for girls to have the right to an education. Two years after the assassination attempt and still under a fatwa calling for her death, Yousafzai became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her continued international advocacy for girls in countries where females are oppressed.
Schlenker said she sees a parallel there.
They’re from the same part of the world and like Yousafzai, Malala the tortoise “had a hard start,” Schlenker said. “And she can’t ever go back to her home.”