Malti is the first tortoise (land turtle) I’ve ever cared for. I did keep (well, technically my mom kept) five water tortoises – all sliders of some sort – when I was a girl. I bonded with one of them, but I never handled them except when we were cleaning their tank.
So I really didn’t know what to expect when Malti joined our little flock. I had watched some adorable videos of people patting and scratching the long, leathery necks of giant Galapagos tortoises. And some of my Facebook friends had posted pics of themselves with their (super-friendly, it seemed) land turtle pets.
But then a tiny little hatchling Malti came home with me and promptly disappeared into her sphagnum moss for hours, days at a time….I had to dig her out on a daily basis to hydrate her and offer food.
I was still hopeful, however. I wanted to be able to have more of a traditional “pet” relationship with this ancient wild reptile.
One day I noticed her backing up against a rock in her enclosure. She was moving her booty back and forth against the rock along the lower rim of her rear shell. I thought to myself, “I think her shell itches!” So I reached out to give it a scratch.
She immediately raised up on her front legs. Then she moved her booty around a bit so I could get just the right spot. It was adorable. I was in bliss.
She still won’t really tolerate me patting her soft neck skin (yet, although I’ve heard some stories about older redfooted tortoises who enjoy this). I will admit to sneaking in a few pats here and there by bribing her with crispy freeze-dried mealworm treats. She loves these so much she will tolerate just about anything to get more. Sometimes she even attempts to climb up my legs to get closer to the canister.
I’ve had to pick her up since she was teensy to take her in and out of her enclosure and later in and outside for playtime and rest time and vet visits and all that. She tolerates it much better now than she used to.
Overall, I try hard to take a “less is more” approach when handling her, although by now she has figured out that when she seeks me out and wants to play or have a shell scratch, there are often treats in it for her. There’s no grass growing under my girl, that’s for sure!