In mid-February, something happened in Tashkent. Flowers started to bloom, the days reached temperature highs in the 60s and 70s, and the days noticeably got just a little longer. Being in the car in the afternoon without cracking a window became uncomfortable.
And yesterday, one more telltale sign of spring arrived: our two little desert tortoises emerged from nearly four months of hibernation under the front lawn.
Their burrows were dug last autumn with a little help from my husband, who reinforced the tunnels with plastic plant pots to avoid collapse or mud drowning. Because our lawn is new, and the rest of the yard is tiled, the tortoises struggled as it grew colder to find a suitable place to dig, walking along the perimeter of the walled yard and scratching pathetically.
It was apparent as the sunlight faded and their motions slowed way down that they were desperate to start the long sleep. Fearing they had become too weak to dig their own holes, we took action.
Because they’d stopped taking food or water in October, yet continued coming out of their burrows even in early November, we first stuffed the openings with coconut fiber plant liners, and eventually put ceramic tile “lids” over the exits to try and convince them to sleep. As it rained and snowed through the winter, we worried about whether they were OK under the lawn. We told ourselves, they’re from here. This is what they do.
So as the weather warmed, we recently removed the tiles and waited for them to make an appearance, knowing their ideal sleep temperature is in the mid-30s Fahrenheit; colder and they risk eye damage, warmer and they wake and must eat.
And lo and behold, yesterday morning, on my husband’s birthday, Jamshid emerged on his own, caked in mud. Arslana came out shortly after.
My husband got ready with a plate of chopped apples and tomatoes, and their water dish. But they just sat for hours on a sunny patch of tile, blinking and inert.
They had coconut fibers stuck to them, and mud caked all over their shells, heads and legs. So, a gentle bath with a sponge and old toothbrush was in order.
Jamshid was much more cooperative, as if he knew that we were trying to help him. Arslana fought and wiggled the whole time, so she ended up with mud on her face and legs that we could never wash off before she would quickly retract into her shell.
Last night as it grew dark, Arslana was trundling around the tiles and trying to hide under the garbage can. I put her back in a tipped-over box and covered them both with a towel. I tucked it in around them, and they hadn’t moved this morning. It’s still a little too cool for them to be without the box and towel.
At least with the advent of spring and watching Tashkent come back to life, we can rest easier knowing that the tortoises too survived the winter.