Notes From the Zookeeper: How DO You Move a 525lb Tortoise?

It’s the best time of year – SPRING IS HERE! And do you know what that means? It’s time for Big Al to go on exhibit! Al the Aldabra Giant Tortoise loves to be back out on exhibit. He likes to be out in the fresh air, natural sunlight, green grass, and in the midst of his adoring public.

So how do we move this big guy? In the past, we have lifted him in the back of a truck and driven him to the front of the zoo. And by “we,” I mean 8 guys who are way stronger than I am. Al does not enjoy being lifted. It’s unsettling for a tortoise to be lifted off their feet, but there wasn’t a better way. Until this year. This year, we have a crate!

Big Al did not fall off the turnip truck yesterday. He knows what it means when the exhibit design team and our curator appear at his enclosure. And he does not like it. Last fall, he did fine walking toward the truck until he heard our curator’s voice, and then he knew for SURE what was about to happen. He headed off in a different direction as fast as his chilly legs could carry him. So it’s all about patience and baby steps. I did ask my curator to steer clear so Al wouldn’t be tipped off.

Al loves my son, so I had him walk Al toward the greenhouse gate with a handful of honeysuckle. Exhibit design team came down to meet me. In order for the move to be as stress-free as possible, I told the team to treat it as a social call. They could offer him treats, pet him, etc. My goal was to keep them from having to push or pull on him because once that happens, he is no longer game, and our job would be much more difficult. The tricky part was that the greenhouse is surrounded by woods – lots of delicious things to eat. If he headed off-course, we’d have to wrestle him into the crate.

How do we move a Giant Tortoise? Like this:

We planted grass and clover last fall, and I over-seeded a few times to get the lot ready for my sweet boy. And he has thoroughly enjoyed it. He stayed up way past his bedtime because he couldn’t stop eating the delicious, fresh grass.

The move was completely without fear or trauma. He did not lose his trust in me, and was happy enough to pose for a picture. No hissing and running. Yay!

Who’s a tired boy? Normally he’s down for the night by now, but he’s so intrigued by the clover that he is only taking a nap. How do I know? By his stretched out neck. When he is down for the night, he parks himself with his head against a wall.

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9 thoughts on “Notes From the Zookeeper: How DO You Move a 525lb Tortoise?

  1. Al! I’m totally head-over-heels for this gigantic guy! ❤️ So glad that you found a low-stress way to move him — and that he rewarded you with a lovely photo op! I especially like that your son is Al’s favorite person. From your descriptions, I’ve always thought he was a pretty nifty young man and this just adds that extra coolness factor! Wish he was one of my science students. 😃

  2. What’s this I’m covered in? Oh! WARM FUZZIES! Love Big Al, love that your kid gets to participate in the move, love that Al lets him. Does one actually “pet” a giant tortoise? Or is there a different term you use on the inside?

A penny for your thoughts! And by penny, I mean a warm-fuzzy in your heart.

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