Talented turtle amazes farm staff

A green sea
turtle is turning heads at Cayman Turtle Farm with its ability to interact with
humans.

The
exceptional turtle called Moriah, swims from the bottom of a tank and takes
food from the hands of trainer and Veterinary Doctor Johanna Mejia-Fava at the
call of a clicking instrument.

The two-year-old
turtle, which has been rehabilitated from injuries, also waits to be petted
after slurping down a diet of squid, fish, vegetables and other food. When she
is given a shove off from Ms Mejia-Fava, she quickly returns for another piece
of food.

The farm-raised
animal is also trained to respond to certain commands to get a piece of food
off huge tweezers, then kicking her flippers as she heads back to the bottom of
the tank.

For the first
time on Monday, Ms Mejia-Fava along with Cayman Turtle Farm Managing Director
Tim Adam attempted a new feat with the turtle by joining her in the tank to see
how she would respond to feeding and human contact in the water.

Acting a bit
shy and nervous Moriah, who weights between 25 and 30 pounds, splashed water circling
the tank, but did not respond to the sound of the click to get food.

“That was a
new thing for her,” said Ms Mejia-Fava, “I knew she would be a bit
nervous at having human contact in the tank with her. That is normal, but I
think as soon as she becomes accustomed to having humans around, she will
settle down.” 

According to Ms Mejia-Fava, “This is the first time that a green sea turtle
will be trained to interact, swim beside you… This is just absolutely exciting,”
she said.

 Mr. Adam said he was absolutely thrilled at
the behaviour of the animal and the progress scientists and staff were making
with the turtle.

 “The research is groundbreaking and awesome,” he
said. “What we are trying to achieve is to make it possible… to introduce… Moriah
to new people. Right now we are seeing what happens when Moriah interacts with
humans.”

Mr. Adam said the
staff was conducting the research and training in stages and in a controlled
environment, being cautious to avoid any risks to the turtle.

“Cayman Turtle
Farm is also on the leading edge of new territory in saving a species from
extinction,” he said.  

 The name Moriah, which comes from the Spanish
word Morado meaning bruised, was given to the turtle after it became sick and
then suffered injuries.  Ms Mejia-Fava
explained that when some turtles are weak, other turtles will beat up on them.

 “She had trauma to her bi-lateral flippers;
other injuries, and a fracture to her shell.”

Moriah bonded
with Ms Mejia-Fava during treatment for her wounds.

 “She is an animal that is cognitive to the
environment,” Ms Mejia-Fava said. “Whenever I tended her wounds, she would roll
her eyes to be cleaned. As I kept giving her the medication, she became loving
and gentler to work with.”

Moriah was
introduced to the community on Tuesday. The turtle was on display in front of
Guy Harvey’s studio on the harbor front in George Town. There, artists Wayland and Guy
Harvey agreed to do a painting of Moriah that would be made into a poster.

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Cayman Turtle Farm Managing Director Tim Adam joins Veterinary Doctor Johanna Mejia-Fava in the tank to see how Moriah responds to human contact.
Jewel Levy

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