I get a lot of questions about whether Malti knows who I am.
Sometimes the question is more about whether Malti can recognize faces – mine or others. But then sometimes the question seems more about whether she knows me – as her carer, as someone significant, as someone she perhaps even likes or prefers.
The former I can answer definitively. Yes. She definitely can recognize faces. When she sees me appear she will look up and look directly at me. This occurs even when she isn’t hungry (which doesn’t happen often, but it does happen).
When Malti was little she was a lot more shy and at first I think she was as afraid of me as she was of everyone and everything else. I also think this “fear factor” response is programmed very deeply into her DNA – in the wild, most hatchling tortoises will enter and exit the food chain in very short order, if you know what I mean.
But now that she is older and (much) bigger, her tolerance for seeing and being seen has increased accordingly. When we are in the house together and the desired snacks are not immediately forthcoming, she will roam about, maybe even catching a short cozy nap here and there, but she will always keep circling back into my general vicinity to see if anything delicious has appeared.
And when I say “circling back” I don’t just mean once or twice. She may do this five or six times, wandering into the kitchen and staring at me, walking around a bit (just to make double-sure I’ve seen her, I suspect), staring directly at the frig, then walking out if all of this still doesn’t prompt any response.
I do realize all of this is still just hypothesis on my part. Except…now she does it with my mom too.
I will never ever forget the first time I saw Malti beg for food from my mom. She did the same exact thing she does with me – walking right up to her, reaching out her neck to sniff her fingers, opening her mouth to try to take a taste of those plump pink fingers – she was begging. No doubt about it.
It worked too. My mom promptly handed over the blueberries and then a bit of steamed organic salmon. Whether this is love, trust, smarts or just Malti’s highly developed survival instinct at work, we may never know. I’d like to think it is a bit of all three.