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Elusive 115-year-old tortoise returns after second vanishing act

Elusive 115-year-old tortoise returns after second vanishing act

Diablo, the 115-year-old tortoise is two for two — twice gone missing from the courtyard garden at Manzano del Sol Village, and twice returned.

On Friday, Diablo vanished after a resident said he heard two male juvenile voices coming from the senior living community’s walled-in walking track. The resident clearly heard, “Hurry up, hurry up!” By the time the resident maneuvered his wheelchair to the gate by the walking track, the last place the tortoise had been seen, whoever was there was gone and so was Diablo.

On Monday morning, residents were surprised to find Diablo back in the courtyard, standing sentinel by the walking track gate.

Nobody knows how he got there or exactly when he was returned, said resident Millie Tjeltweed, who owned Diablo and his mate, Delilah, for 35 years before she moved into Manzano del Sol seven years ago and gifted the tortoises to the senior community.

“We’re just happy to have him back,” she said Monday.  “We think it’s a miracle.”

The first time Diablo vanished, he’d been missing for nearly a week, when a family who lives near Manzano del Sol and had seen a story about the missing tortoise reported they had purchased him for $5 from some kids in a local park.

While one staff person said she thinks “some bored neighborhood kids are just messing with the folks here,” Vera Schaffer, the senior community’s resident services director, said, “It’s anybody’s guess if someone brought him back or if he was here the whole time.”

Still, she noted, the community’s gardener, as well as Tjeltweed and other residents, scoured the grounds thoroughly both times Diablo went missing, and there are limited places in the courtyard garden where he could hide.

“We’re looking into getting a GPS tracker or name tags to attach to his shell in case he goes missing again,” Schaffer said.

Local veterinarian and Journal columnist Jeff Nichol said all this handling of Diablo “has got to stop.” Tortoises maintain their hydration levels by re-absorbing water back from their bladder. When they get frightened, however, they release all the fluid at once and “run the risk of dying from dehydration,” he said.

“Reptiles like this are not like domestic pets,” he said. “They don’t like or have an innate need for physical contact.”

Nichol noted that, while it’s a little early in the year, tortoises dig hibernation burrows.

“They don’t do it until early September,” he said, “but maybe he started it early.”