By Sarrah Peters, News Editor
On Wednesday, May 23, Noccalula Falls Park celebrated World Turtle Day at its petting zoo. This is the third year Noccalula has hosted the event.
Students from local schools visited to take part in the celebration.
Visitors were introduced to a new addition to the petting zoo: Bella, a female African Spurred Tortoise. Bella joins Goldie, a male African Spurred Tortoise who was donated in 2010 when he weighed only three pounds. Now about 11 years old, Goldie weighs 65 pounds. He could live to be 125 years old and weigh up to 300 pounds.
The two tortoises live in the same enclosure, and soon may be expecting baby tortoises. Bella currently is digging a nest in the enclosure, where she will lay eggs and bury them to keep them warm. However, the petting zoo staff will retreive the eggs to incubate them. Petting zoo manager Cindy Hester said that while Alabama’s climate is warm, it is not as warm as Africa’s climate and one cool night could be harmful for the eggs.
Several other turtle species were on hand. Noccalula Falls Park employee Hope Johnson showed off box turtles, which she explained were really tortoises because they live on land, while turtles live in water. Johnson shared the difference between male and female box turtles: males have red eyes and females have brown eyes.
Common Snapping Turtles, Spiny Softshell Turtles, Yellow-Bellied Sliders and Musk Turtles were also on display.
Noccalula Falls provided the children who visited for the World Turtle Day with coloring pages, turtle stickers and turtle-themed party horns. The children also received facts on turtles, which are reptiles and have existed for about 215 million years. There are around 300 turtle species.
American Tortoise Rescue in Malibu, California created World Turtle Day in 2000 to celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world. Susan Tellem and Marshall Thompson founded the American Tortoise Rescue. Since its start in 1990, the non-profit agency has rescued and relocated about 3,000 tortoises and turtles to caring homes.
“We launched World Turtle Day to increase respect and knowledge for the world’s oldest creatures,” said Tellem in a press release. “These gentle animals have been around for 200 million years, yet they are rapidly disappearing as a result of smuggling, the exotic food industry, habitat destruction, global warming and the cruel pet trade. It is a very sad time for turtles and tortoises of the world.”
World Turtle Day has grown from its humble beginnings in California to be recognized worldwide.
“We are thrilled to learn that organizations and individuals throughout the world now are observing World Turtle Day, including those in Pakistan, Borneo, India, Australia, the UK and many other countries,” said Tellem in a press release.