A zoo in Moncton has pulled out all the stops to help a tortoise named Sherman regain his mobility.
The 24-year-old sulcata tortoise at the Magnetic Hill Zoo is a little hard-headed like his shell, said Gabrielle Jacob, a zoo’s veterinary technician who helps care for the animal.
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“He is very stubborn so if he makes his mind up that he is going to go somewhere, if it takes him all day he is going to get there,” said Jacob.
It’s that sheer determination that is seeing Sherman through some health struggles that started a few years ago, said Jacob.
“In 2019, we started to notice some mobility issues with him. The back end, he was not quite lifting it as far off the ground as he needed to,” she said.
Sherman was developing painful pressure sores on his undercarriage, said Jacob, and after consulting with vets in several provinces, a series of tests revealed that the relatively young tortoise had a non-cancerous growth on his spine that was hindering his ability to move.
So, Jacob and the zoo’s carpenter, Nathan Steeves, got creative. The pair designed and built a handmade wheelchair that is giving Sherman a new lease on life, said Jacob.
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“He can rest his whole body on it and does not have to worry about lifting his whole self up.”
Strapped to his shell, the wheelchair is giving his hind end the support it needs to allow Sherman to move about freely and regain his strength, said Jill Marvin, the zoo’s director.
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“Right now we are seeing this drastic improvement in him and I think that is what is really encouraging,” said Marvin.
The growth on his spine can’t be surgically removed due to his shell, so Marving said Sherman will likely need his chair for his entire life. His species can live between 80 and 100 years and it is unclear if his conditions will impact his life expectancy.
Jacob said the team at the zoo has to keep a close eye on Sherman when he is outside for his therapy time because he tries to sneak away to eat grass and dandelions, albeit not quickly.
Sheman also has a girlfriend named Penny of the same breed, said Jacob, who was rescued along with him by an Ontario rescue organization in 2014. She said the visits with the two together have been therapeutic as well.
“He is always 100 times more active when she is in the enclosure versus when he is in there by himself,” she said.
The pair will soon be sharing a space together at the zoo and will be on display for visitors at the zoo.
Marvin said Sherman is likely to “inspire people.”
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