Malti Explains Redfooted Tortoises: Tortoise Tunnels

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Often when someone meets Malti for the first time, their biggest curiosity is about her personality.

Is she friendly? Does she know me? Does she like to play? Does she bite?

From my limited experience with pet tortoises, I can say the answers to these questions (as best I can tell) are yes, yes, yes and yes, but only if she has a good reason – like she wants to explore something or my fingers smell like salmon.

I’ve fielded more than a few questions about her “pet qualities” as well. People are very curious if tortoises make “good” pets, by which they usually mean are tortoises like cats and dogs – do they snuggle, cuddle, play, communicate.

Here again, from what I’ve observed thus far, my answers would be yes, yes, yes and yes. Malti typically prefers snuggling with her sphagnum moss, her giant stuffed alligator or her smaller collection of stuffed turtles than with me, which I attribute mostly to her deep-seated need to hide and be covered.

After all, she is a South American tortoise whose natural wild habitat would be underneath loads of forest floor growth or buried deep in the dense savannah grasses.

As far as play is concerned, Malti definitely does play! I couldn’t say exactly why she does this or whether she views it as “play,” since tortoises in the wild are solitary unless it is time to make an egg, and they never even meet their parents when they hatch.

We first started playing “tortoise tunnels” when she was a baby. I would get down on the floor to be closer to her level. Often I’d get on all fours and then she would crawl towards me. But then she would crawl underneath me and settle herself in the shadow of my torso for awhile.

At first, she really liked to do her bathrooming there as well, which meant I had to be extra careful how I got up and make sure to have some paper towels handy!

But then she noticed that my ankles and feet had little tortoise exit points built into them, and she would try to walk underneath them. Then she started walking in and out of the various openings she would find, sometimes threading her bulky little body under my arms or legs and then out the other side.

We also do this thing where we touch noses. I started using this signal when she was very small to let her know I am a safe being and she doesn’t need to be afraid of me. I don’t know if that was the message she got at first, but now she will sometimes even initiate the “nose touch” as I call it by reaching her head and neck out towards me.

Often I will touch noses with her right before I put her into her habitat (whether inside or outside) for the night as a way to say goodnight. Needless to say, it is absolutely adorable to see her reach back with her cute little nose to touch mine!

Malti makes her way through the “tortoise tunnels”…..

 

Malti makes her way through the “tortoise tunnels” of her mama’s legs….

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