From the department of cute animal videos as (pandemic) self-care:
We bring you Tom, a red-footed tortoise at the Philadelphia Zoo, enjoying his own form of self-care.
In a video the zoo posted to Instagram that’s been viewed nearly 21,000 times as of Friday afternoon, Tom’s taking a spin through a three-sided shell scratcher built by one of his handlers.
“I imagine that it would feel like tickling,” said zookeeper Torunn Gundersen about the scratcher that she built.
It turns out turtles and tortoises can feel through their shells, which are full of nerve endings.
While zookeepers would scratch Tom and his fellow tortoises with toothbrushes and other small brushes, Gundersen was inspired by a contraption she saw on a zookeepers Facebook group to build something the tortoises could use to get scratched whenever they wanted, for however long they wanted, and as hard as they wanted.
Tom, who, at 25 years old, is a middle-aged red-footed tortoise, spent 20 minutes in the scratcher the first time he discovered it, she said.
The scratcher is a form of “enrichment,” activities to keep animals from being stressed or bored — “We don’t like to see boredom,” said zookeeper Amanda Egen, because it can lead to bad behavior.
These activities are meant to recreate what animals would experience in the wild and to offer a way for the animals to investigate their environment.
Other forms of enrichment include heating or cooling elements, toys, and puzzles for them to get to their food.
Not every tortoise is into the scratching. Rhonda, a radiated tortoise, isn’t that hot on it, Gundersen said.
But with the ones who do like it, like Tom, you can tell because of how they “wiggle their back ends,” Gundersen said.