Slow but steady recovery for Micke Grove Zoo tortoise
Micke Grove’s animal care specialists are jokingly calling the tortoise den Cleo’s “apartment.”
On Friday afternoon, 3-year-old Ari Cortez peered through a large window allowing zoo visitors to look into the room. With her godmother Luisa Cortez’s camera in hand, the young girl laughed as she excitedly tried to line it up with the female tortoise.
Just inches from the little girl’s elbow, unnoticed, a white square of paper explains that the brown tube leading from a point between Cleo’s neck and shoulder to a port secured to her shell is a feeding tube.
According to animal care specialists Amanda Baker and Shannon McCarroll, Cleo has a problem that is not all that uncommon to radiated tortoises.
The 13-year-old reptile has reached maturity and begun to produce eggs. Normally, unfertilized eggs are released and reabsorbed into the tortoise’s body. In Cleo’s case, however, the eggs are remaining in her abdominal space, making her feel full.
When she stopped eating enough of her food, she developed fatty liver syndrome. She became lethargic and was not her usual self, Baker said.
The feeding tube, which Cleo received courtesy of the University of California, Davis, should help Micke Grove Zoo staff get the tortoise healthy again, McCarroll said.
“Energy-wise, she’s been doing very well since she came back,” Baker said.
On a trip outside her “apartment” on Friday, Cleo spent some time crawling quickly around in the grass, and several blissful minutes getting her shell scratched by Baker, who is the relief keeper for the tortoises.
“This is so good, to see her being active like this,” Baker said.
The zoo has been taking things with Cleo day-by-day.
She gets fed through her tube twice a day. She also has free access to a tray of food with yams, lettuce and other munchies, McCarroll said.
“Everybody keeps an eye on her to see if she’s eating,” McCarroll said.
She hasn’t yet shown a lot of interest in food, although she did eat a bit of grass her first day back from UC Davis.
Healing could take some time, though.
“Unfortunately, with tortoises, things move very slowly,” McCarroll said.
She also gets plenty of time outside of her den to play in the grass, and visits with the zoo’s other four radiated tortoises. Her time in the tortoise enclosure is limited and closely supervised, however, because zoo staff doesn’t want the others to pull at her feeding tube, or for her to get caught on any of the landscaping.
The animal care specialists hope that, as Cleo gets the nutrition she needs and her body heals, she will begin reabsorbing her eggs normally and return to her usual self.
If the egg problem keeps recurring, though, the only other option is to have her spayed. The zoo wants to avoid that, since it involves an invasive surgery and removing part of her shell.
So for now, it’s the feeding tube and close observation to see if it’s helping.
“We’re hoping we can get her out of this negative state,” McCarroll said.
Contact reporter Kyla Cathey at firstname.lastname@example.org.