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Turtles are very intelligent and interested in the things around them, which is why the Turtle Centre has been embarking on a comprehensive program to enrich their environment with little coral caves, where the turtles can go to rest, if the they want to step out of the limelight for a bit. The ‘caves’ are actually not made from coral, but rather have been created by Joseph Betty, CTC’s driver, tour guide, and sculptor! They are made out of sections of large drainage pipes, overlaid with realistic looking artificial coral. Each one of them is different. “Each piece has its own character the idea is to design very natural-like scenes from the ocean to allow the turtles the feel of what it’s like to be in the will. Each piece is designed uniquely for the fact that we want to design a unique piece for each and every tank,” Mr. Betty said. The pieces have been carefully painted to emulate the natural colors of coral reefs around the Cayman Islands.
“Turtles are loving it!” he Mr. Betty said. So far, CTC has specially commissioned over 30 pieces, and Mr. Betty has been hard at work and has already made 17 of them. Every tank will get at least one piece, and the bigger tanks will get at least two. Visitors have responded very positively too, with one visitor remarking “Wow, you guys are awesome,” after seeing the new turtle cave.
CTC’s Jerris Miller who has being helping to oversee the new operation commented: “Joseph has created a natural type habitat for the turtles – that gives them a chance to rest and get away from people if they feel they want to and he really has done a tremendous job with the artwork on it – it looks like a natural reef and he’s doing it in record time, and he’s really doing a great job, and it’s great to have someone like that on the staff. We are going to continue the enrichment program through all the tanks.”
Behavioral enrichment often goes hand-in-hand with dietary enrichment, and it is particularly important, before an animal is released into the wild, to make sure it has become used to foraging for some of the forms of food they will find in their natural habitat. Naturally, turtles would often have to think about what they were going to eat next. Smiley the crocodile, of course, may have to briefly, at least, ‘work’ very hard in order to catch its prey if they are deprived of such behaviors because food is just ‘given’ to them and they don’t have to ‘work’ for it, captive animals may show some signs of stress. Smiley’s feeding times are very popular with visitors. She loves to leap out of the water to catch the food that is thrown to her, or to make things more interesting, her food is often given to her in a bundle attached to a rope, and the keeper can be seen to tug on it, to emulate the continued movement of recently caught prey.
Similarly, new ways of feeding the turtles are being introduced, which cause them the best way to work out exactly how to get hold of the green leaves they need. Frozen ‘popsicles’, which float at the top of the water and gradually melt in the sunlight have been shown to be very popular with them.
Many of the birds of the Caribbean Aviary are prepared for release by adding more and more natural elements to their diet. This is true of the Cayman Parrots and White Crown Pigeons, and CTC crew members will spend much time looking for the kinds of wild-growing fruits and nuts, to gradually change the bird’s diet, prior to release.
But perhaps the very best kind of behavioral enrichment comes through interacting with visitors. Every day, visitors love to see birds from the aviary feeding from their hand, or enjoying purchasing a bag of turtle feed for the huge turtles of the Breeder Pond.