During a recent visit to the Palm Beach Zoo, in Florida, I had the opportunity to get close up and personal with some Aldabra tortoises. One of the world’s largest land tortoises, Aldabra tortoises can reach sizes of up to 550 pounds and ages of up to 150 years old. They are native to Aldabra Island, one of the Seychelles northeast of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean and are one of the more social tortoise species. Aldabra tortoises are easily domesticated and can learn to identify their keepers in a short time.

The first Aldabra tortoise I met was 95-year-old “No-toe” – named such as he is missing a back foot. While no one knows how he lost his foot, it did not slow him down one bit. No-toe has a very sweet personality and when I bent down to pat his head and talk to him, he leaned his neck out and up to greet me! It was a special moment and I laughed when one of the other tourists in our party called me “the tortoise whisperer!”   

“No-Toe” – age 95 years

The next Aldabra tortoise I met was “Munk,” a 40-year-old tortoise rescued from upstate New York.  Sadly, Munk’s owners did not feed and care for her properly, causing large lumps to form on her shell.  According to the zoo attendant, Munk has made great progress during the past year and her shell is starting to look normal again. While I was patting Munk’s head, No-toe came lumbering over to visit me again.  For a tortoise of his size, No-toe can really cruise along!

“Munk” aged 40 years – You can see the ridges on his back

“Patch” is a 60 -year-old Aldabra tortoise who the zoo keeper said is her favorite as he has a very gentle personality. Patch was lounging on other side of the pen, quietly soaking up the Florida sunshine. 

“Patches” – age 60 years

Finally, it was time to say goodbye to my new tortoise friends. My 30 minute “Aldabra Tortoise” experience at the Palm Beach Zoo reinforced how amazing tortoises are and how their personalities can make them wonderful companions.  However, one should not enter into tortoise ownership lightly. You must be ready to fully commit to caring for them properly – just as Mrs. McKay does in The Story of Neeps and Tattie.  Tortoises need specific care and feeding and many species living in captivity in colder climates may need help with the hibernation process. Because of the very long life span of many tortoise breeds, plans need to be in place for when tortoises outlives their owners.  Many owners make provisions for the ongoing care of their tortoises in their will. 

If you are ever in Palm Beach, Florida, I highly recommend you pay a visit to the Palm Beach Zoo. Everyone who works there is so friendly and helpful and you can tell they really care about the animals they work with.

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