Tale of the tortoise: slow, steady and smart

January 5, 2015






Besides a triumphant victory over the arrogant hare, what do you really know about tortoises?


Slow and low to the ground, it is tempting to overlook these fascinating creatures and assume there is nothing much to know. That would be a mistake.


For example, did you know that tortoises are extremely smart and quite personable? The keepers at the Pueblo Zoo, who care for our five red-footed tortoises — Goliath, Pearl, Dink, Dewey and Hercules — report that tortoises follow them around much like dogs and can move surprisingly fast when they want to. They are also quite receptive to training as was just proven in a recent training project at the zoo (see Object ID Study for a video of tortoise training in action).


Also, did you know that tortoises are notoriously bad parents? They largely leave their young to fend for themselves and, in fact, it can become dangerous for the small ones to be around the large, lumbering parents as they may be in danger of being stepped on — or worse. As a result, young tortoises quickly become very adept at taking care of themselves.


The zoo’s education department recently benefited from this parental deficiency. Goliath, the zoo’s oldest animal at 55 years old, became a father to Hercules about one year ago. Because it was not safe to keep them in the same exhibit, Hercules was recruited as an animal ambassador for education.


The zoo’s docents, volunteers and staff reach more than 30,000 children a year through on- and off-site school programs, birthday parties and other special events — and the animal ambassadors help bring learning to life as living, breathing illustrations of science and nature. Their animal charm and natural charisma help children connect in dynamic ways that books just can’t achieve.


A quick, easy lesson some of our students have learned is how to remember what animals fall into the reptile family, in addition to tortoises. They learn the acronym SALT to help them — snakes, alligators/crocodiles, lizards, tortoises/turtles. See how easy that is? And, our students have an image of Hercules etched firmly into their minds with that acronym. So can you, if you come visit the tortoises at the World of Color.


Also, anyone interested in committing to be a docent, please contact mwalsh@pueblozoo.org.



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Pueblo Zoo  • 3455 Nuckolls Ave.  •  Pueblo, CO 81005  

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Our mission is to empower people to engage in conservation of animals and their natural habitat.