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Attack of the Heteronormative Turtle Keepers! June 27, 2012

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Onely B*tchslaps Mother Nature.
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We here at Onely feel confident that you have never seen a blog post with this title. But get used to it. Heteronormative turtle keepers (HTKs) are in the news lately. They’re trying to impose their couple-centric worldviews onto their amphibian friends, and no one (except us) questions whether the HTKs are out of their minds–least of all the media, who love this stuff:

Some turtles “divorce,” others are “lonesome” – at least according to two news stories that have been published over the last month. First, Bibi and Poldi, giant turtles at an Austrian zoo, are apparently getting a “divorce” after 115 years together. Beirut’s The Daily Star laments:

The world’s oldest marriage looks like it has come to an end.

What’s more:

Management at the Austrian zoo in Klagenfurt tried everything – from couples’ counseling to feeding them romantic mood food to getting them to play games together, but to no avail.

Which begs the question, What the hell constitutes romantic turtle mood food, and where can we get some for our. . . uh, never mind. It also begs the question, Why must the media and keepers anthropomorphize these poor turtles? Actually, what the articles have done is dizzyingly weird, albeit great Onely fodder: they’ve created a misrepresentation within a misrepresentation. These stories attribute arbitrary human habits to turtles (lonesome, divorced) and then within that paradigm they tack on stereotypes about those human habits (single=lonesome, divorced=worse than married).

Man-made heteronormativity is bad enough – surely we don’t have to infect Mother Nature too? Despite their caretakers’ not-at-all-bizarre behavior, Bibi and Poldi never did reunite, nor even play games. As the saying goes, Turtles that play together, stay together. Obviously Bibi and Poldi didn’t try hard enough to keep the spark alive. Now all the other (coupled) turtles in the zoo will be saying that (now single) BiBi is irresponsible with tons of free time, and that (now single) Poldi can’t commit and eats TV dinners while standing up at the kitchen counter (not always a bad thing, in our opinion).

The media also went nuts over Lonesome George, a giant tortoise – the last of his subspecies – who died this week on Galapagos Island. Researchers called George “lonesome” — apparently because he only mated once with another female (unsuccessfully and after living with her for 15 years) and failed to mate with the others who shared his corral.

We agree it’s sad to lose the last of the Pinta tortoises, but we can’t imagine why researchers assumed George was “lonesome.” Even though he never “married” or reproduced, it sounds to us like he lived a full life. Come on, he lived in the Galapagos!

We can’t be sure, but we guess that Mother Nature doesn’t sanction this heteronormative rhetoric about all her free-wheeling, peace-loving creatures who are just trying to live satisfying creature lives (though we do think that Mother Nature probably thinks our anthropomorphizing tendencies are cute). Bibi and Poldi, don’t pay any attention to those stupid keepers of yours. Be well and be happy, whether or not you “love” each other. And George? May you rest in peace.

— Lisa and Christina

photo credit: public domain images


1. tehomet - June 27, 2012

Amen! 🙂

2. Alexis - June 29, 2012

I pretty much thought the same thing when I read an article about Bibi and Poldi. Sure a little sad that after 115 years it was over, but maybe that’s how they do it in turtle land and we’ve just never been around long enough to see it… After all, how many of us live to 115?

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