Tortoises moved to greener pastures

Kek Lok Si Temple abbot /Picby: CHAN BOON KAI/The Star/26 January 2016

DAYS before Chinese New Year, some 500 resident tortoises at the Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang have been moved to a new home — the Oriental Garden at the foothill of the temple.

The nicely landscaped area with a cascading waterfall that forms part of the pond, provides a bigger and more natural setting for the reptiles.

Temple abbot Ven Xian Guan said the tortoise pond would be open to public today, just in time for the festive celebration. It is open from 8.45am till 6pm daily.

He said they spent a day transporting the reptiles by lorry from the previous site within the temple grounds to the new place on Monday.

“Visitors are not allowed to bring food from outside to feed to the tortoises here for hygienic reasons.

“Those who want to feed the reptiles can buy the kangkung (water spinach) from us.

“We also discourage the public from releasing tortoises or fish into the new pond.

(Left) A filepic of the old pond, which had housed the reptiles for over 70 years at the temple. (Right) Ven Xian Guan looking at the new tortoise pond in the Oriental Garden at the temple’s foothill.
A filepic of the old pond, which had housed the reptiles for over 70 years at the temple.

“We want to keep the number as it is. Otherwise, it will be overcrowded,” he said after showing reporters around at the new site yesterday.

The previous site, known as the temple’s Liberation Pond, was home to the tortoises for more than 70 years.

For Buddhists, releasing animals is a traditional practice and seen as a gesture of compassion and a repentance for one’s sins.

The temple had previously come under fire from several animal loving non-governmental organisations for the tortoises’ poor living conditions in the pond.

The tortoises were said to be living in extremely overcrowded conditions, with one clambering over the other and eating the thrown vegetables which rot within the enclosure.

The new site provides a clean and refreshing feel for visitors standing at the gazebos and mini bridges, while the water in the pond is light jade green in colour.

Ven Xian Guan said that besides a tortoise pond, the new site would also feature a fish pond, a landscaped garden and pavilion, which are still undergoing construction.

There are also some souvenir shops and hundreds of parking lots at the site.

“Only the tortoise pond is ready for the time being. Construction works at the site began in 2015,” he said.

Ven Xian Guan said some of the giant boulders at the site were retained because of their spectacular formation.

“We also built a few artificial rocks to complement with the original setting.

“The water is from the mountain. It has gone through proper filtration before being released into the pond,” he said.

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