Mornings With Oogway

Oogway is now just a wee bit over 5.6cm in length at the shell. That’s twice the length compared to when I stumbled upon him—quite literally—in May last year.

Oogway the Mauremys reevesii pond turtle
Oogway is now 5.6cm long at the shell

He has a comfortable terrarium home, heated to a constant 28ºC. I also invested in a portable fenced-in area, which I bought with the idea that I could let him play unsupervised while I work. He immediately escaped.

His favourite activity by far though, is crawling on top of me.

I am not sure when it started, but we have a morning ritual now. I say hello when I get up, open the blinds to let light in. There is no direct light to his terrarium in the morning, so I augment the natural illumination by turning on his sun lamp.

Sometimes he sits under his faux rock bridge/ shelter. At other times he is settled comfortably on top. Most often, he is somewhere else in his abode. There is always a look of recognition and acknowledgement from him. I imagine him saying, “Ohaiyoo gozaimasu” in Japanese, or sometimes for a giggle, “Ciao bello” just because it’s so ridiculous to think of him addressing me in Italian (as if Oogway speaking Japanese would be any less absurd).

After my breakfast comes his. He takes turtle-food pellets directly from my fingertips, one by one, gently, though sometimes he clamps down by accident. It doesn’t hurt. It probably surprises him more than it does me.

Anyway, this allows us to keep track of the exact number of pellets he eats. At this stage, it is usually between 35 and 55. I remember when it was all I could do to get him to eat 10. Ah, they grow up so quickly.

He signals when he is done. He turns his head away, sometimes pushes my finger with all the force he can muster.

Next, he either climbs to the top of his bridge/ shelter and looks up at me, or runs around like a turtle on a mission. This means, “I want to play.”

I sit on a bean bag. Oogway sits on me. Then he starts to explore. Over my belly, up my chest to my shoulder, where he looks around, scouting the horizon. Sometimes he heads the other way, summits my bent legs to reach the pinnacle at my knees, where again, he looks around, scouting the horizon.

Because we are in physical contact, I have learned to sense when he is about to bungee-jump. He launches himself from the top of my knee or shoulder. I reach out to catch him. Thus I become the bungee. I went to university for this stuff.

While Oogway romps, I have coffee. He plays for an hour or two each morning (if it were up to him, it’d be more like 6-8 hours I’m sure), during which time I read or sometimes write, like I am now.

The most interesting part of this from a biology-geek point of view is watching new patterns of behaviour emerge. When this happens, I contemplate how and why.

For example, a little over a week ago, Oogway crawled into the front pocket of my hoodie (the kind of pocket that is like a tunnel, with openings on two sides for both your hands) and fell asleep. 

How do I know he was asleep? I peeked. He was out cold. It was adorable. I got squishy-emotional.

I let him sleep there while I finished reading 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari, then woke him and took him back to his terrarium.

This happened again the next day, except in the pocket of my fleece pants (it’s winter here). He crawled up and into my left pocket, adjusted things to make himself comfortable, then went to sleep. Again, adorable. Again, I read, this time starting The Tangled Tree by David Quammen.

I really wanted to take photos of Oogway sleeping in my pocket, but it is impossible for obvious reasons.

So I set up the neoprene sleeve that I use for my iPad mini to see if Oogway would make himself at home in there. He did.

Oogway the Mauremys reevesii pond turtle
Oogway sound asleep, note the nictitating membrane
Oogway the Mauremys reevesii pond turtle
Oogway waking up with a start

Read Oogway’s origin story