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Carmen Rasmusen Herbert: What to do when tortoises divorce

Published: Thursday, June 14 2012 4:21 p.m. MDT

In these troubling times, it seems the rising divorce rate isn’t exclusive to the human race.

One-hundred-and-fifteen-year-old tortoises Bibi and Poldi, paired for longer than any of our lifetimes, recently experienced what can only be described as a falling-out at the Austrian zoo where they’ve been living for the past 36 years.

“For no reason anyone can discover … they just can't stand each other,” zoo boss Helga Happ tells the Austrian Times. “They have been together since they were young and grew up together, eventually becoming a pair.”

But Bibi seems to have turned on her partner, launching several attacks on her old mate — even biting off a chunk of Poldi’s shell, forcing the staff to relocate the old chap.

“We get the feeling they can't stand the sight of each other anymore,” Happ says.

Now … this is a pretty funny story. Maybe not "funny" as in hilarious, but "funny" as in ironic. I think it’s interesting that the fight for family seems to extend into the animal kingdom.

I think it’s even more interesting the zoo has taken such concern over this issue, even using animal counseling, trying to talk these two tortoises into playing games together as a couple and feeding them “good mood food” (not talking Arby’s) in hopes they’ll get them to reconcile.

I’ve been married to my tortoise for 6 1/2 years. I admit there’s been a time or two when I’ve “snapped” at him. Sometimes the monotony of everyday life wears me out and I end up taking my frustrations and stresses out on my husband — something both of us aren’t happy about.

On a recent play date, my friend asked how many times my husband and I have gone on vacation without kids since we’d been married.

My answer: never.

“What?” she asked in shock. “You have to do that every once in a while, even if it’s just for a day or two. It’s so good for your relationship.”

Feeling that our kids were finally at the ages where we could leave them for a few days (three and a half, to be exact), my husband and I took her advice and flew to Puerto Rico last week for some much needed R-and-R.

And I must say … my friend was right.

Crystal-clear water, warm tropical breezes and the happy chatter of Spanglish turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. Most importantly, the change of scenery and complete one-on-one time brought us closer together, bringing back that little “spark” of romance and excitement.

It was hard leaving my two little boys, but I knew they were in the best of hands with grandma and grandpa (our boys even slipped a time or two and called us “grandma” and “grandpa” for the first day or two after we took them home).

I wonder if those tortoises back in Austria aren’t experiencing somewhat of a relationship rut? Perhaps it’s less about being sick of each other and more about being sick of each other in the same surroundings. After all, 115 years is quite a long time to be with someone.

I myself get sick of my “enclosure” every so often, and am grateful for the occasional date night out on the town. In any case, zoo experts aren’t ready to throw in the towel just yet.

"We were told that it's very rare that after so many years animals who are a pair will fall apart, but that's where we are,” says Happ. “We hope that they might find their harmony again.”

My advice: Get those two old-timers out on a couple’s-only retreat. Maybe there’s room at the Hogle Zoo?

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.

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