Swim free, little terrapigs

In Dubai on December 20, 2010 at 12:21 am

Freeing my terrapins into the Media City pond is a sad end to a long relationship. But hopefully it’s for the best.

Today I set my three terrapins free in the Dubai Media City pond. I had been meaning to do it last night, but I had a moment of realisation that, while I didn’t want to be stopped from liberating them or disturbed when I was saying what was bound to be an emotional goodbye after four years, it would have been unnecessarily bewildering for them for me to set them free in darkness.

So at 7.30am, as people were just starting to come to work, I took them to the small bridge where the water outside the CNN building runs down to the pond. I took them one at a time from their tank, said goodbye to them and lowered them into the water.

Shortly after I moved to Dubai five years ago, my then-housemate Ellen bought two minute red-eared slider terrapins. She called them Bebop and Rocksteady after characters in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles television series.

Bebop was the one on the left.

Then one day I woke up to find Bebop dead. (In case you’re wondering, a terrapin’s limbs and neck hang out when it dies. The sadness of that day’s morbid discovery was tempered somewhat by discovering this fact.) Rocksteady would always be named thus, by dint of steering clear of his friend’s body by staying to the right of the tank.

Rocksteady seemed down on his own, so I went and bought two more friends to keep him company. Out of tribute to Bebop, I called them Doo Doo and Run Run. I never decided which was which.

Inadequate feeding might have had something to do with Bebop’s death, so I fed these terrapins more, and they grew. They grew into messy adolescents, into eating and shitting terrapigs that needed regular cleaning.

And then a bigger tank.

And they kept growing.

People say terrapins grow to the size of their tank, but I think they grow beyond that. And in recent months I’d been getting more and more concerned about the pigs not having enough space. Also, with the amount they shat, if I left them for more than a week to be fed by my doorman, the tank would be like soup when I got back. Not very nice for the pigs.

So I decided that the time had come to set them free before I flew home for Christmas. There are other terrapins in the pond (although it’s dyed a bizarre blue colour) and mine are big enough not to be eaten by birds, I hope.

I lowered Rocksteady in first. He swam away. Then back. Then around. That must be the furthest he had ever swum. He surfaced and looked at me and swam some more.

The larger of the two little ones sank down to the mud, turned round in circles, rose, settled, turned.

The smaller of the three did an immediate volte face and shot under the bridge I was kneeling on. He always liked hiding.

I poured some food in (I’d already fed them well before we left the house) and, as I walked away, I saw Rocksteady’s head poking out of the water a good way out. I told myself they’d be OK. It was emotional.

At lunch time I walked round the pond till I saw a terrapin at the opposite corner. It could have been Rocksteady. I poured in some more food.

And after work, in the dark, I walked around the lake with a torch, searching like police looking for a missing toddler. I didn’t see any terrapigs. I poured some food in where I had left the pigs and drove home to an empty house.

It’s eerily quiet. And tomorrow morning, the pigs won’t have been woken by the timer switch on their light and be watching my bed, waiting for me to stir so they can scrabble as they swim into the glass, excited by this thing that rises and gives them food.

I hope they are all right, that I did the right thing, and that they grow and prosper and are — in as much as terrapins can be — happy in their new home. I’ll miss them.

  1. You did the right thing, and I’m so thankful to you for taking care of my little Rocksteady. I’m sure as you walked away and saw his head pocking out of the water a good way out, that was him saying “goodbye Austyn,I’ll never forget you”

  2. Great post, and great blog.

    Since your terrapigs are in DMC pond, I’ll have to rethink my idea of rescuing the baby crocodiles at Sharjah animal market and releasing them in same pond.

    I think Emirates Hills might be more fun, though. They’d thrive on a diet of labradors and spaniels.

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