Photography by VINCENT LAO and ALVIN LAO
Moving on from the speedy and graceful flyer, we have another frequent visitor who is no less graceful but is an interesting contradiction of the Flying Lizard. They move extremely slowly and always plant themself firmly on the ground.
I used to encounter the Asian Box Turtle many times in a year. The usual encounter was on the road, and the driver had to swerve away to avoid crushing this anti-speedster.
On quite a few occasions during my childhood, a Box Turtle would also walk into the house. The place they would frequent was the pigsty. There was no effective garbage collection system in Palawan during the 70s and 80s, and it was common practice for households to have a backyard pen or Chicken coop, which would function as the garbage disposal system.
Once in a while, we would be surprised to see a Serpent head peeking out of the mud among the Pigs. But it wasn’t a Snake; it was an Asian Box Turtle, and he felt at home with the Pigs, gobbling up as much food as he could before the Pigs finished them all up.
I have not seen one for many years, until one day, a Turtle just decided to drop by the garden. Judging by her belly, it was a she. The old-timers used to say that if the underside of the Turtle curved inwards, it was a male. If it was flat, then it was a female.
As days turned into weeks, it had become apparent that our visitor wanted to be a permanent resident. Sometimes, we could see her peering in from the ground through the glass panes, watching us have dinner. So, it occurred to us that maybe she could smell the food and did not have enough to eat.
During such times when she was approachable, we surmised that she was hungry. We would offer her raw kangkong or cooked rice, and boy, did she like to eat.
We seldom saw her during dry and hot days. But after a good rain, we would definitely see her frolicking about.
A lot of my friends used to have Box Turtles as companion animals. They used to be so abundant and it was easy to get one, aside from the fact that they did walk up to people’s houses in search of food. As companions, they were pretty tame.
We had one in our science lab in high school. He was like the class mascot. My classmates would bring treats like bread and biscuits or share with him bits and pieces of their snacks. I was glad that his tummy was quite hardy, because I knew animals were not supposed to be fed chocolate and MSG.
He had grown very accustomed to people; the sound of our voice and the sight of us approaching would cause him to get excited. Instead of retreating into his shell, he would extend his neck as far as he could in an attempt to catch someone’s attention, hoping to get some treats.
From my experience with these Turtles, I knew they were usually fed fresh vegetables or unwanted vegetable parts, like the skin or the stalk. For those kept in ponds and aquariums, they were sometimes given the occasional treat of feeder Fishes. They would chase them around for exercise and snacking.
For those left wandering in the yard, such as our visitor, grub, Insects and other small creatures are fair game. I have seen our guest attack a Maya chick who has fallen out of the nest. These just might comprise the diet of a typical Asian Box Turtle who lives in the forest.
Turtles are usually low-maintenance animal companions. However, we must remember to clean their tank regularly. Like other Reptiles, they can withstand bacteria-infested waters. Unfortunately, their human handlers cannot. We must keep the healthy habit of cleaning our companion’s habitat and remind children to wash their hands after handling animals, especially Reptiles.
I really hope Asian Box Turtles would continue to thrive in Palawan for generations to come. I would love to feature Box Turtles and Sea Turtles in my next story, but I have to learn how to use this blasted GoPro first. I miss the old tech of my time. Just put the film inside the camera and click away. No need to download this, pair that, charge this, or upload that.
These past months, I have discovered a place where each
of my attempts to search for Sea Turtles turned out successful. So, my next big challenge is to learn how to use new tech, so that I could capture nice pictures for my story.