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Living with slowpokes

By KATHY MORAN, The Philippine STAR Published Feb 20, 2022 5:00 am

I have always had a liking for turtles, so hearing about Jonathan, the world’s oldest living tortoise, fascinated me.

“Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa), will celebrate his 190th birthday this year at his home on the South Atlantic Island of St. Helena, a volcanic British Overseas Territory,” said Kuya Kim Atienza. “Tortoises can live up to 200 years in captivity; in the wild a tortoise can live to 120 to 150 years.”

I live with a Sulcata Tortoise that is about 22 years old. I remember that I had seen the turtle for sale in a pet shop and on a whim I decided to get it. I named my turtle Pong Pagong.

Pong Pagong of Batibot was an anthropomorphic turtle, similar to Big Bird of Sesame Street, standing over six feet tall, towering over his human co-stars, and around six years old.

And then, of course, we all know the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, created when four baby turtles were exposed to radioactive ooze, transforming them into humanoids. They fight evil in New York City, where they reside in the sewers.

There was Leonardo, the leader; Raphael, the strongest and most reckless turtle; Michelangelo is the least disciplined and most fun-loving turtle and Donatello in his purple eye mask.

Life these past two years has taught me to live slowly but surely — making sure that there will always be a good tomorrow if we move with patience and caution.

I talked to three turtle lovers about their pets. 

Tim Yap
Not only are turtles for good luck, they also teach others to take better care of nature.

Tim Yap with Speedy

PHILIPPINE STAR: How did you end up with a turtle?

TIM YAP: The turtle was a surprise gift by a friend of mine who couldn't take care of it. He sent me a video of the turtle going after a leaf that was taped to his back. So, the turtle was running aimlessly for his supposed dinner. Told my friend how cruel he was and the next day, I woke up to this wooden box in my home. It was the turtle, with a letter saying I was his new parent.

Did you think you would have a turtle as a pet? 

It never entered my mind to have one. I would see some from the kids of my friends and I'm that houseguest who spends a lot of time with the house pets. Was always fascinated by them but never thought I would ever have one (or four). 

What kind of turtles do you have? 

A Sulcata Tortoise. I also have another one that is an orange striped red-eared slider. I named them Speedy the Tortoise and Bullet the Turtle.

What do you feed them?

Speedy loves okra. 

What do you like about your turtles? 

Turtles are the most peaceful, patient animals I've experienced. Watching them reminds me of something I most definitely need in a lot of situations.

Watching Speedy go about his day is very therapeutic for me. Speedy is not a slowpoke (thus the name). I like to see him go after what he wants. And then he tells me to open the door when he wants to go to bed and sleep. My pets are the masters at home. 

Do you think turtles bring luck? 

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They say it's also to attract good luck. I believe it. Pets bring love and harmony to your home. That's always good energy!

I'm generally already quite lucky but having my pets work as a de-stresser makes me the lucky one. Although one time I remember right after I adopted my other turtle, it coincided with me getting a very big account so I guess the luck part is true, too!

Do turtles make good pets? 

Turtles make great pets as they have this Zen energy about them. It calms me to watch them do their thing. They are also fun and have a great sense of humor, too!

I think of turtles as mini-guardians of the environment. They have been there since time immemorial and they will outlive us all eventually. "Been there, done that," says the turtle.

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On turtles and setting them free:

I have been to a couple of baby turtle releases in Amanpulo and in Nacpan Beach, El Nido. I made friends with the people behind the turtle nursery so each time there would be a baby turtle release, I would gather our friends in the travel bubbles that I had organized to witness it. Not only is it thought to be for "good luck," it also teaches others to take better care of our nature just by seeing these babies go to their natural habitat. Nature and its many lessons.

Marielle and Leo Po
Our pet turtle shows us longevity, patience, shelter, protection and endurance.

Marielle and Leo Po with Donnie

When did you get your turtle?

MARIELLE AND LEO PO: A friend gave us a pair of Sulcatas as a gift for my two sons in 2014; they aptly called them Donnie and Raffy after watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie reboot. Raffy sadly passed away in 2018 and is buried under our mango tree.

Do you have other pets?

We have a three-year-old male Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Red, who recently mated and so we are all excitedly anticipating puppies soon. We have a koi pond that my husband is completely passionate about and we have an aquarium that has freshwater fish.

Have you always wanted a turtle?

My husband, Leo, is a complete pet lover; he’s had random pets growing up and the highlight of his childhood would be trips to Cartimar with his father and visiting the exotic pets zone, so I’m sure that if our friend did not gift us with Sulcatas, Leo would have brought home a tortoise.

What kind of turtle is Donnie?

A Sulcata Tortoise, which is a land tortoise used to dry desert weather and perfect for the tropical climate in our country.

What do you feed him?

We have a garden and we do not have our frog grass cut, ever. Donnie is our lawnmower. He eats and trims our grass; that’s his daily diet. We also give him the skin of the fruits and vegetables we eat, such as papaya, pomelo, carrots, zucchini, cucumber as a treat, so nothing is wasted — the tortoise’s version of chocolates. 

What does the turtle symbolize for you?

Our tortoise, for us, symbolizes longevity, patience, shelter, protection and endurance. 

Have you noticed if your luck improved since you got your turtle?

We consider all our pets a blessing and they complete our family. The kids have learned how to be compassionate and gentle as they grow up with Donnie, Red and the rest of our pets.

When Raffy died due to kidney failure, we buried him under our mango tree in the garden and that summer we had an overabundance of mango fruits growing and we knew that those fruits were Raffy’s gift to us.

Do turtles make good pets?

Yes! Our tortoises are complete herbivores and so their feces are also used as fertilizer for our other plants in the garden. They are low-maintenance pets and get along with other animals. We also let Donnie roam around the outdoor perimeter of our home and his instincts are pretty good — he hasn’t fallen into our pool and koi pond. We also know that he can defend himself from predators such as stray cats because of his size and his super-hard shell.

Kim Atienza
Turtles are the most peaceful, patient animals I’ve experienced.

Kim Atienza and some of his Tortoises

Have you always been interested in turtles? 

KIM ATIENZA: Since I was a young boy I have always had turtles. At the age of nine or 10, I had many turtles. Turtles have always fascinated me, but these were very common turtles back then. 

What did you like about them? 

I was fascinated that they would be able to hide inside their shells. By the time I was 11 or 12 I was able to breed the Box Turtle that I bought in Cartimar.

How many turtles do you have today? 

Many, so I don’t have names for some of them because they are very plenty. 

Have you been able to breed your tortoises? 

I have been able to breed Sulcata Tortoises. I was very successful in breeding them but have not been breeding for the last three years.

I have Aldabra Tortoises also. This is the second-largest tortoise in the world and it can grow up to five feet. The Aldabra Tortoises I have are about 16 or 17 years old, but they are still considered juvenile because they have a 200-year life span.

What do you feed your turtles? 

I feed them grass and they love kangkong also. I feed them fruits once in a while because fruits to them are like chocolate to us. If we feed them too much fruit they will have shorter lifespans and they will die of fatty liver disease. So dapat green leafy vegetables all the time.

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Do you think turtles are lucky pets? 

I am a born-again Christian. I don’t believe in luck; I believe in the will of the Lord. A turtle will be good luck if you work hard in your job. If you are tamad,however many turtles you have, they will not bring you luck. 

Do turtles make good pets? 

Yes, because they are very cheap pets. I have a grass supplier and grass is sold cheap. I have a garden with grass and sometimes I let them loose and they eat the grass. Right now I have about 12 turtles. I have Aldabra Tortoises, Sulcata Tortoises and Radiated Tortoises. I have three Alligator Snapping Turtles (water turtles). I have a pair of Mata mata Turtles and a pair of Longneck Turtles. 

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How old was the oldest turtle that lived with you?

The oldest living turtle that I ever took care of was a Sulcata Tortoise that lived with me for about 25 years. He was eventually bitten by a rat.

What characteristics of the turtle do you most admire?

Their patience. Turtles are the most peaceful, patient animals I've experienced. Watching them reminds me of something I most definitely need in a lot of situations.