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Target training partially sighted turtle

By Ann Kunz 

We have begun target training Orion, a female loggerhead turtle who was found half buried in the sand at Sodwana Bay on the 18th October 2021.

She was found to be exhausted, positively buoyant, and had a visible cataract on her left eye.

“Working with visually impaired turtles poses a unique set of challenges. Loggerhead turtles are usually very motivated by the sight of food. In Orion’s case, we need to help her recognise food through both smell and sound as we are preparing for the reality that the sight in her right eye might unfortunately, over time, degenerate to the same extent as her left eye” said uShaka Sea World Senior Quarantine Aquarist, Malini Pather.

As Orion is a fairly young turtle, the cataract is unlikely age related and as there is no visible trauma around the eye, it was difficult to pinpoint exactly how she developed the cataract.

Although Orion has put on weight and is quite healthy, she struggles to navigate with her single functioning eye. As she is currently un-releasable, we have started to target train her. Not only is she learning to respond to a visual target, but to a sound target as well.

Orion is not our first visually impaired turtle. Munchkin, a three-year-old loggerhead arrived a few years ago with cataracts in both eyes. Thankfully Munchkin responded really well to target training and is now quite at home in the aquarium’s turtle lagoon exhibit.

We are all hoping that Orion will learn to cope with her impairment and eventually adapt so well that she becomes a candidate for release.