Amputee Tortoise Gets Moving With Wheels

The procedure probably saved the animal's life.

A plucky female tortoise is winning the hearts of the Indian public as it races around its zoo enclosure on an improvised set of wheels. The animal lost its front right leg in a mongoose attack, and zookeepers added the wheels in a short operation after they noticed the animal couldn't move around and reach its food.

The two-year-old Indian star tortoise lives at the sprawling Arignar Anna Zoological Park in Chennai, India. Since it received its new wheels, it moves even faster than its 14 able-bodied neighbours, according to zoo staff.

"I have never seen this, but it looks like a really good idea," says Kenneth Krysko, the collection manager of herpetology for the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainsville.

"It probably saved the animal," adds Krysko. "We see injured turtles like this all the time, so I'll have to remember this."

Turtles and tortoises often have their legs injured in attacks from predators, including domestic cats and dogs, Krysko says. At Chennai, a mongoose reportedly emerged from the surrounding forest and attacked the tortoise in its enclosure.

Turtles and tortoises also sustain injuries in fires, get hit by cars, and suffer other mishaps. If they lose too much mobility, they can have trouble finding food and carrying out other daily tasks.

The Indian star tortoise (Geochelone elegans) lives in dry areas and scrub forests in India and Sri Lanka. With the distinctive starlike markings on its carapace, or shell, the tortoise is popular as an exotic pet.

The animals can grow up to 25 centimetres long, and females are larger than males. Males can be identified by their concave plastron, or bottom shell, which assists them in mating.

The tortoises are mostly herbivorous and feed on grasses, fruits, and succulent plants. Occasionally they feed on carrion.

Arignar Anna Zoological Park is one of South Asia's largest zoos, with a ground of 602 hectares. The institution was first founded in 1855, making it the first zoo in India. It was first inside the city but in the 1970s it was moved to the outskirts in a forest reserve. The zoo opened at its new location in 1985.

"This turtle is awesome," says Krysko.

[All images: Arun Sankar, AFP, Getty Images]

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