August 29, 2022
Stop and Smell the Hibiscus
- as seen by -Micah Siegel
Life is built on routines.
As the sun crests over Zoo Center, it’s time to leave the cozy, heated, hay-filled barn to forage. Mid-morning is the best time to look for food – there is enough sunlight to see, but it’s not too hot yet. Summer afternoons are less suited to finding snacks and are better spent lounging in the pool.
Such is the life for Abdul, one of the Wildlife Conservation Society Bronx Zoo’s resident Aldabra tortoises, Geochelone gigantea. We don’t know exactly how old Abdul is, but it seems fair to assume this has been his routine for decades at the very least. Morning is his typical time to peruse the day’s edible offerings, as it would be in his native habitat, the Seychelles. Grazers by nature, Aldabra tortoises spend much of their time eating what plants they can find. Grass, leaves, fruit, and flowers are all on the menu. Here at the Bronx Zoo, our tortoises want for nothing, and are free to snooze the day away should they choose. Food will be delivered on schedule.
Of course, though we pamper our tortoises and fill their salad bowls with their favorite veggies, they will still follow the same schedule. Wake up early, forage, sleep the heat of the day away in the pool, return to the barn for an evening snack, sleep some more. In the wild, Aldabra tortoises undoubtedly stumble upon novel or uncommon things to eat, something that doesn’t happen quite so often in a closed, controlled environment. Using new food items as enrichment for a foraging species like Aldabra tortoises allows us to better recreate the diversity of edible plants they would encounter in their natural environment. In addition to the many fruits and vegetables, we are lucky enough to have access to year-round, the zoo grounds offer us seasonal treats like these hibiscus flowers.
I think there’s a lot to learn from Abdul. He follows his routine at his own pace but doesn’t hesitate to delight in the occasional hibiscus flower.