KAKAMIGAHARA, Gifu Prefecture--A big-headed turtle became a shell of its former self at an aquarium here, so a young woman is now training the reptile to help get its mojo back.

Since arriving at the World Freshwater Aquarium Aquatotto Gifu in June 2015, the turtle has appeared devoid of all drive, mainly staying idle in the corner of its tank.

Found in southern China, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand, the big-headed turtle is not only an active swimmer but also a vigorous crawler that actively climbs onto branches and rocks using its claws. Its shell measures 14 to 20 centimeters in length but its oversized head is too big to keep tucked inside.

But what sets this turtle apart from other species is its ability to hang from branches with its tail.

According to Naoki Kamezaki, an official with the Suma Aqualife Park in Kobe, the turtle might have developed this ability to avoid being swept away in flooded rivers.

Yuka Kondo, a 26-year-old animal trainer at Aquatotto Gifu, is currently helping the lethargic big-headed turtle reclaim its wild side.

When she sounds a whistle, the turtle turns its head and sets its eyes on the piece of fish Kondo holds in a pair of tongs. The hungry creature follows the bait to a pool inside its tank.

After another blow on the whistle, the turtle curls its tail and grabs onto a branch near the water surface.

With its eyes fixed on the fish meat, it then slowly climbs onto the rocks toward the back of the tank and finally eats the food.

Kondo thought about training the turtle because she wanted to see the creature move about as it does in the wild.

“By witnessing its true capabilities and behaviors, we want many visitors to learn that the big-headed turtle isn’t an animal that just sits around and is actually an amazing creature,” Kondo said. “We hope to keep working together to achieve that goal.”

Raised in Konan, Aichi Prefecture, Kondo had dreamed of working at an aquarium since her youth. After learning how to train dolphins at a technical college in the prefecture, she was employed by an aquarium in Hiroshima Prefecture.

She started working for Aquatotto Gifu in August 2013.

Kondo also had experience training such animals as the spotted seal and the Humboldt penguin but not turtles. So she started by reading foreign studies on raising giant tortoises and watching YouTube videos.

“I could barely read its expressions, unlike any of the other animals I’ve trained before,” Kondo said of the time she started training the big-headed turtle in July 2016.

Each training session is limited to about 10 minutes a day to avoid overworking the creature. She has helped exercise the turtle about three to five times a week.

After about a month, Kondo was able to read the movements of the turtle’s eyelids or where it was looking. She could tell if it was “willing to be trained today” or was “not hungry right now.”

She has avoided naming the creature, fearing it might get confused if it is signaled by anything else but her whistles. She wraps the tips of the tongs tightly with tape to avoid injuring the reptile.

Kondo and the turtle formed a type of bond over months of training. It now walks toward Kondo on its own whenever she approaches its tank.

The duo’s ultimate goal is to have the turtle hang by its tail from a tall tree.

The number of big-headed turtles in the wild has rapidly declined largely because of its popularity as a pet--and also as a delicacy.

It is currently categorized as “endangered” under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.