Geronimo’s hibernation adventure and BURROW RENOVATION. (Desert Tortoise Update!)

If you’ve been following along on Geronimo’s (desert tortoise) adventures, you may have noticed the absence of any kind of hibernation post this hibernation season. In fact, the last time I wrote about Geronimo was on June 23, 2022!

I haven’t provided updates since then, but now I can share the reason: Geronimo out-adventured himself almost to his demise and has consequently spent the winter hibernating in a large Rubbermaid container, which has now come to rest in the (outdoor) laundry room. Of all the things I could image Geronimo would do, the idea of hibernating artificially never entered my mind.

The short version of the story is that Geronimo’s continuous digging landed him in an underground garbage heap wherein he got himself into all sorts of trouble, and the vet condemned his burrow.

The long version, for any of you who are interested, is this:

In my last Geronimo post, I wrote about our first fancy monsoon storm of the summer, and how I looked out and spied Geronimo walking across the yard. What I didn’t tell you was that:

1). I was greatly relieved to see Geronimo, as he’d been MIA for nearly three weeks. It was worrisome. Desert tortoises do shelter in their burrows much of the time during the hot months, but Geronimo usually came out in the very early mornings and/or at dusk to graze. He needed to eat. He needed water! I was thrilled to finally see him out when the storm started.

2). There was something trailing behind Geronimo as he trudged forward. Actually, I saw the thing first, and didn’t realize that it was attached to Geronimo until Geronimo emerged on the other side of the patio. The thing was a very long piece of fabric, and it looked to be heavy, as Geronimo wasn’t sprinting along as he normally does – especially in the rain.

I went out to him immediately and found that the thing was made of stretchy brown nylon, kind of like pantyhose, but coarser, and it was shockingly substantial. It was at least six feet long, and the entire length of it was bunched-up and thick. It was indeed heavy, as it was soaked from the rain and coated in mud.

Geronimo was dragging it behind him because it was wrapped around his neck.

The fabric was caught in the crevice under his chin where his under-shell connects to his body, wedged so deeply in there that I had to tug and pull with effort to extricate it. Long, heavy, weighed down with dirt, and jammed into that space around his neck? He could only have gotten himself tangled up in it in the depths of his burrow… and that explained why I hadn’t seen him for almost three weeks. It was the force of his innate desert-tortoise need to be in the rain that saved him, I believe. The call of the storm aroused his will to live, and somehow (the vet was amazed) he managed to turn himself around down there in that cramped space with that thing attached to him.

He could have been strangled. He could have eventually died of starvation or dehydration, because who knows for how long he’d already struggled to free himself? But Geronimo is a survivor.

With this revelation came a realization: the tufts and balls of white fluff (like cotton, but not) I’d seen in and around Geronimo’s burrow – since the end of the previous summer – came from the same place as the thing around his neck. The constant appearances of these fluff balls had been an aggravating mystery that had me on the phone with the vet earlier in the season. I even took photos and sent them to the nurse, who confirmed that the cotton-like balls of fluff that I kept finding packed into Geronimo’s feces was synthetic stuffing. When I took Geronimo in to be seen by a vet following the incident with the thing, I brought in a sandwich bag full of some of the stuffing and Geronimo’s feces. The vet examined it and pointed out that in addition to the synthetic upholstery stuffing, there was also part of a thin sheet of foam of the sort that was used as padding beneath wall-to-wall carpeting.

“Looks like he dug himself into a pile of trash buried under the yard. He’s surely dodged some bullets. Keep him away from that burrow.”

We left the vet with artificial hibernation instructions in hand; thus commenced Geronimo’s extended stay in the house for the rest of the summer. He never set foot in his burrow again. We fashioned a makeshift crate out of a large plastic bin on its side, keeping it filled with hay. Geronimo chilled in there during the day, and he got set outside at dusk. I wanted to keep him on a schedule that would kind of mimic what his in-and-out burrow schedule would be.

When the time to hibernate drew nigh, we took Geronimo to my boyfriend’s parents’ house, as my Ex was going to come for 17 days to collect his stuff (there would be a lot of activity in the garage). The timing of this event worked well, as within a week, I heard from the Ex that he would arrive in a few days for an impromptu, preliminary stuff-gathering two-week visit. (I mentioned in a previous post that I spent much of November and December living out of suitcases. That was why. I stayed elsewhere while the Ex was here. Between those two visits and my trip to Utah with my boyfriend and his family, I barely saw the inside of my own house during those months.)

And so it was that Geronimo began his hibernation elsewhere in Phoenix. After the Ex left (for the last time) in the third week of December, we brought Geronimo home, where he’s finishing out his hibernation in the laundry room.

Geronimo’s burrow was history. The canopy over the burrow had disintegrated into tatters, and I didn’t have to deal with it. Heavy early-winter rains caved in the entire back of his burrow, and I didn’t have to deal with that, either. (What a bullet that would have been to dodge if he had been in his burrow when it collapsed.)

What I did have to deal with was the construction of a new burrow for Geronimo. Spring would arrive, and Geronimo would need a home-base after coming out of hibernation!

The Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Desert Tortoise Adoption Program offers instructions for three approved burrow styles. I decided to go with the 5-gallon buckets style, which consists of two 5-gallon buckets joined together with the bottom cut off of one. The idea is to create a large pipe with a dead end. The whole name of this new burrow game is “Geronimo Shalt Not Dig Beyond the Burrow.”

For this project, I went to TaskRabbit, and I was fortunate in hiring someone who turned out to be perfect for the job. His name is Vidal Curiel, local friends. If you’re considering adopting a desert tortoise and you live in Phoenix Metro and you need someone to dig you a tortoise burrow, Vidal is the man!

Burrow demo and renno went down last weekend. I took pics of the process, of course!

I went to Home Depot and picked up two 5-gallon buckets. An employee in the lumber department agreeably sawed off the bottom of one of them.

Funny story: When I explained what I needed done with the buckets to the first employee (who escorted me to the guys who could help), the older gent asked, with grandfatherly warmth, “Is this for a school project?”

I also got super-serious duct tape, which we used to join the two buckets together.

After filling in and packing down the caved-in back part of the burrow, Vidal set the conjoined buckets inside the old burrow’s existing external structure. In accordance with the instructions, he measured the depth of the back end to make sure that it would be 16 inches deep. The buckets had to slope down at a 20-degree angle.

Geronimo won’t be able to dig further, nor deeper. The back of the bucket is the end of the line!

You can’t see it here, but we set the old burrow’s sheet of plywood over the cinder blocks to make a roof for the buckets before piling on the dirt. Vidal made sure to pack dirt around the buckets, underneath and on top, as well, to insulate them and make sure that they wouldn’t move.

He also packed dirt into the buckets to fill them half-way, as directed by the instructions.

We needed a minimum of eight inches of dirt on top and around the whole burrow, so…

…Vidal took some dirt from the other end of the yard. Eight inches of dirt all around and on top of the burrow is a lot!

He stamped down each layer of dirt to make sure he was building a solid structure, and I sprayed the whole thing down with water in between layers, as well.

Getting there!

Here you can kind of see the opening of the bucket.

As well, we purchased a new pavilion for the burrow to help shade it, as the old one was trashed. Vidal helped with that, too! He followed us to Lowe’s to pick up the pavilion, and the three of us put it together.

Finished product – Geronimo’s new crash-pad, comfy and cozy!

Aaaand, it wouldn’t be a Geronimo update post without a pic of the little dude himself:

“Hello!” ~This was when the weather had cooled down enough to move Geronimo from the house to a box under a table on the patio.

That’s the story, my friends. This is where we are now. Geronimo will come out of hibernation, go to his burrow, and get pissed off (he’s going to hate it at first), but he’ll be safe, and that’s the important thing.

I’ll be sure to post more Geronimo updates as the season changes! I’ll report on his reaction to his new burrow. Heheh.

With that, I wish you all a good day or night. I hope this finds you all doing well!

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