Norbert the Aldabra giant tortoise celebrated his 51st birthday this week, reinforcing his status as the oldest animal in the zoo. But because giant tortoises can live for more than 100 years, Norbert is just middle-aged!
Zoo keeper Ryan Coomer says that Norbert is a friendly fellow. “He comes over to see us when we are cleaning,” Coomer says. Norbert’s exhibit-mate, Purdue, isn’t quite as outgoing. “She is a little bit shy.”
Norbert has a busy schedule because keepers interact with him to provide physical and mental stimulation. Here are some of Norbert’s favorite things:
Sprinkler Time: “Norbert likes to play in the twirly sprinkler,” Coomer says. Play? “Well, he sits and lets the water hit him.”
Hose-down: “When we spray Norbert’s shell with the hose, he’ll stand up tall and stretch out his neck,” Coomer says.
Neck Rub: Norbert’s scaly reptilian skin can get dry and flaky, so he gets rubbed with baby oil every month.
Mud Wallow: On a hot summer day, nothing beats hunkering down in a giant pool of mud. As reptiles, tortoises use their environment to regulate their body temperature. A good wallow does the trick.
Cactus on the Water: Norbert chases prickly pear cactus fruits that keepers place in his pond.
Melon Ball: In the wild, tortoises rear up and stand on their hind legs to reach tasty foliage. Keepers hang a melon on a rope just high enough to encourage this behavior. “Norbert can reach pretty high when he wants to,” Coomer says.
So which of these special things did Norbert get on his birthday? “Nothing special,” Coomer says. “When you’re 51, it’s just another day!”
Aldabra giant tortoises are listed as vulnerable to extinction in their native home in the Aldabra Atoll, which is part of the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean. Learn more here.
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