'It's a guy thing': 150-pound tortoise may have trekked half a mile looking for love
Police and firefighters caught and returned to his owner a 41-year old tortoise who escaped from his home in west Red Bluff earlier this week.
It’s just one of several wayward-tortoise wanderings reported daily this time of year.
Tehama County Sheriff's deputies were called out Tuesday morning to help retrieve the 150-pound bad boy and put him back in his enclosure, according to photos posted by deputies on social media. Firefighters from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection assisted deputies picking up “Dino” and returning him to his outdoor enclosure.
“It was awesome,” deputy Dustin Maria said, laughing. A neighbor called and reported “a dinosaur in their yard. It was an incredible animal to see.”
When they contacted his owner, officers learned Monday night's wind storm blew open the latch on Dino's pen, then opened the gate to his enclosure, animal regulation officer Amanda Wentz said. “He was probably half a mile away. He just went on a romp.”
When officers arrived, Dino tried to make a break for it, Maria said. “He was really quick. Then the watermelon came out. (It) changed everything.”
It took three people to put Dino in a sport utility vehicle and another three to help shift him once inside. Officers also helped Dino's owner, Reeds Creek School District superintendent/principal Cindy Haase, get Dino back in his enclosure.
“He (Dino) has a really nice set-up — about a 20’-by-20’ area with dog house,” said Maria, a student of Haase when he was in high school. But if Dino can see beyond the fence he will "dig or do anything he can to get out.”
Tortoises need solid fencing like Dino’s wooden one, Wentz said. If they have fencing they can see through, "they’ll punch through it. They’ll keep pushing at it. They’re such powerful animals.”
When he's alone, Dino does spend a lot of his time digging and contriving ways to sneak out, Haase said. His other hobbies include watching the sunrise — the front door of his house faces east — and hanging out under the hose.
"He’s got a tickle spot on his" shell, Haase said. "if you scratch it or squirt it with water, he’ll dance.”
Dino is also very social and will look for company, Haase said. When she sits in her lounge chair in his enclosure he tries to get in her lap. “You can’t snuggle with him. It hurts.”
'They keep cruising until they find a girlfriend'
Wandering tortoises are “a daily occurrence this time of year,” said Katie Hoffman, owner of Tortoise Acres Rescue and Sanctuary in Anderson. Many break out of their pens. It’s breeding season.
“The same day (Tuesday) I got a call from (Shasta Lake) and another from Palo Cedro,” both for help re-penning African spurred Sulcata tortoises — like Dino — who broke out of their enclosures.
“They smell a girl in heat” and storm the fence, Hoffman said. “It’s a guy thing.”
Competition for mates is high, she said. Ninety percent of Sulcata tortoises are male. “That’s why they have to go out looking for women. They keep cruising until they find a girlfriend.”
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It’s a real problem for Hoffman and her husband Ken, who adopt out turtles and tortoises as well as care for them on their 10-acre ranch.
Last year, Sulcata tortoise “Sherman” — like the tank — was adopted by a family a few doors away from her ranch, Hoffman said. In one calendar year, he broke out of his pen eight times and walked back to the rescue because “we have all the girls here.”
Sherman was very social with both people and other animals, said Sherman’s former adopter Jeni Short. “He’d come up the stairs and into the house.”
But he had a thing for the ladies and she couldn’t keep him in his yard, she said. He'd walk into a road near traffic to get to them, so he was re-adopted by a Bay Area family for his own safety.
The Hoffmans have adopted out 190 turtles and tortoises since they opened their rescue in 2016. Of the Sulcatas, only three or four were female, Hoffman said
Tortoises are not supposed to eat fruit, she said, only vegetables. But like us, they’ll eat sweets like watermelon if they can get it.
Jessica Skropanic is features reporter for the Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. She covers lifestyle and entertainment stories, and weekly arts feature d.a.t.e. Follow her on Twitter @RS_JSkropanic and on Facebook. Join Jessica in the Get Out! Nor Cal recreation Facebook group. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today. Thank you.