Enrichments

Whether we are talking humans, dogs, or tortoises, animal brains develop better when they are challenged, tested, given problems to solve and opportunities to be creative.

Enrichments
are those things that keepers do to help make
their animal’s days more fun, stimulating, and interesting. Enrichments for tortoises can come in many
variations, limited only by the creativity of the keeper and the real
needs and safety of the tortoise. Here are some examples of things we
can do.

Note: All enrichment activities must be appropriate to the species and size of the animal. Not all ideas here are appropriate for all tortoises.  There is also a lot of individual response- some tortoises will play with a ball, for example, and others will not. Also remember that over-stimulation is stressful- don’t overdo it!

Food-based ideas

  • Offering whole foods
    that are a little awkward for the tortoise to eat, like tomatoes, melons, pumpkin, kiwi, c
    orn on the cob, etc.
  • Hide foods- tuck
    mushrooms, strawberries, or cat kibble in unusual places.
  • Hang bundles of
    greens from a clip or hook, as if they were hanging in nature. (This also seems to encourage a lot of interesting, natural behaviors.)
  • Let them graze from safe potted plants when indoors.
  • Release worms and isopods (aka wood lice, pill bugs, sow bugs…) in the
    habitat that the tortoises can eat (or that will eat wastes in the
    habitat.)
  • Vary the amounts of
    the feeding- heavy days, light days, fasting days, and normal days
    on an irregular schedule.
  • Offer unusual but OK
    foods by looking for left-overs, day-old, bruised, and other samples
    of foods you usually cannot afford or by offering things like
    organic junior baby foods (the chunky stuff), sardines or other
    small fish with bones, leftover cooked chicken, brow or whole wheat bread, safe to eat flowers,
    etc.
  • Offer
    ‘holiday-themed’ meals, like:

    • Thanksgiving- cooked
      turkey, sweet potatoes, greens, apple (pie), pumpkin (pie)
    • Halloween- pumpkin,
      organic dried fruit snacks, apples
    • Birthdays or
      anniversaries- use slivers of carrots for candles on top of cakes
      made from things like mushroom caps, or pineapple cores.

Other ideas

  • For most species of tortoise, the best enrichment are others of the same species, assuming you have the room and resources.
  • Consider a 2-story habitat by combining a hide under a ramp to a second level.
  • Replace as much of the habitat as possible with more natural options, like…
    • A hide under leaves, branches, a simulated uprooted tree, a simulated burrow.
    • A hide under a piece of living sod- grasses, clover, grazing plants, etc. A example of this can be found at Moist Root Shelter.
    • A sunken water dish molded to simulate a natural puddle
    • Hills, valleys to climb- many tortoises love to clamber on hills.
    • Different walking surfaces, like bark, rocks, etc.
    • Live plants, in the substrate or pots.
    • A more organic, natural substrate, like the Bioactive Substrate in the Substrates section.
  • Some tortoises seem
    to enjoy moving things around their habitat- plastic boxes, balls
    too big to eat, etc. (I think it would be hilarious to watch a
    tortoise push around a kid’s toy bulldozer, but I have a weird
    sense of humor.)
  • Give them a challenge- put a visible food treat somewhere they can only get to it by doing a simple maze, using a ramp, etc.
  • Consider training
    them. You can use operant conditioning to train them to do a
    variety of simple tasks. It takes a while and you have to think
    about what to use for a signal and rewards, but it can be done.
    After all- they quickly learn to identify when you are going to
    feed them!

    • Some sample stimuli
      would include tapping the wall of the pen, tapping the shell
      lightly, offering an obvious hand signal (hand out flat, or held in
      the ‘stop’ pose)
    • Some sample rewards
      would include bits of banana or strawberry or Superworms
    • Some tricks to
      consider:

      • Come for food
        when called
      • Reach up and
        ‘beg’ when your hand is held over their head
      • ‘Shake’ by
        putting their leg in your outstretched hand
  • Give them access to
    a bigger world if they are usually kept indoors, Create a ‘daytime
    pen’ or some bigger space they can be in when the weather is
    nice. ‘Free-roaming’ a house is usually a bid idea, but a room
    or area that has been carefully checked for hazards and offers the
    right environment is a possibility.
  • Let them out in a
    warm summer rain, or simulate a warm rain in their habitat if
    possible.
  • Set up a slow drip into the water dish or a small waterfall for motion, noise, and humidity.
  • If it seems to enjoy it, stroke it’s head or chin.
  • Offer them a ‘spa’ experience of a soak in a pool of warm water they can easily get into and out of. Ideally, this is set up in their main habitat.
  • House them with other animals. This takes some research, but some examples include”
    • Hermit land crabs with Red-foot Tortoises
    • Geckos or anoles in larger, enclosed habitats to eat flies and other common pests.

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