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The principles teach how to craft a home and lifestyle that create a psychologically and physically healthful home for the animals for whom you care. Achieving the goals of each principle is vital to support recovery and well-being of animals in captivity because, by definition, captivity represents a severe mental and physical compromise to well-being.
Here, every month, we illustrate how we apply these principles to Desert Tortoise care and habitat at our Tortoise and the Hare sanctuary.
Principle One: Safety
In its most basic interpretation, safety means having a place where we do not have to worry about bodily harm or the lack of food and shelter. It is the most fundamental requirement for living. There are three main aspects of safety: physical, psychological, and social. Here are examples from the Kerulos Tortoise and the Hare Sanctuary
Physical safety – Tortoises may have shells, but they cannot protect Tortoises from dog, raccoon, or Golden Eagle attacks. Their warm-weather habitat (geodesic domes) are covered with chicken wire and the perimeter trenched 1.5 feet deep with hardware cloth. An extra 1.5 feet of hardware cloth above ground ensures no ingress. During warm months, the Tortoises are also checked twice a day to make sure they are upright, if they need more food or water, and to watch and learn about their individual personalities and aspirations.
Psychological safety – This relates to how we feel about ourselves: our sense of self and the confidence we feel to deal with stressful and challenging situations. Many of our special needs Tortoises have lost an arm or a leg. This physical vulnerability can lead to psychological vulnerability. To help offset this sense, the habitat is designed to support the needs of each Tortoise.
For instance, water dishes are at a gradient and have a tile placed at the deepest end. This allows a Tortoise to wade in as much as they wish. The tile and hash marks of the painter’s tray provide traction. Together this avoids a situation where a Tortoise cannot get out of the water and feels trapped or panicked. Although the Tortoises are well protected, dogs are not allowed on sanctuary grounds as their presence may trigger fears based on previous attacks, as in the case of Sihu who suffered severe shell trauma and loss of right arm.
Social safety – This pertains to relationships, their quality and capacity to provide support. There is a sense of security knowing that we do not have to worry that others will betray or break trust. Depending on individual personality and desires, the Sanctuary Tortoises occupy a habitat either singly or with a friend. Some Tortoises seem to prefer solitude, such as Chuchip, while others, such as Kwahu and Chosovi, are eager to share “digs.”