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Out With the Dogs: Tortoises Down On The Farm

Out With the Dogs: Tortoises Down On The Farm

I first visited the farm over five years ago; the owner is a flyball friend who raises Border Collies. When our flyball team broke up it was hard getting enough other people and dogs together for training sessions, but we were able to set-up a monthly meet down at the Live Oak farm. In addition to the standard goats and sheep in residence, there are alpaca and surprisingly; three African Spurred or Sulcata Tortoises. It is prudent that I pass on the warning about owning this type of creature according to the website Sulcata-Station.org: “Please, do your research before you bring home a Sulcata tortoise. Like most exotics, these are not easily-kept pets. These tortoises get VERY large, VERY quickly, and they can live well over 50 years. They DO NOT hibernate in winter so you must keep them warm, feed them, and clean up after them year-around.

Reptile rescue organizations nationwide are overwhelmed with rescued Sulcata tortoises. If you don’t plan to keep the tortoise forever, don’t get it in the first place. And please don’t breed your Sulcata tortoises.” Having said that; as it happens, the farm is a wonderful home for them and two of the three tortoises are rescues from pet shops. I was so enamored by these odd farmyard inhabitants I actually did a little general research after first meeting them and found a few interesting facts: “This species of tortoise inhabits the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in northern Africa; a transitional region of semiarid grasslands, savannas, and thorn shrub lands. The tortoise digs burrows in the ground to find damp areas with higher moisture levels and spends the hottest part of the day there. Sulcata is the third-largest species of tortoise in the world and the largest of the mainland tortoises.

Adults are usually 24 to 36 inches long and can weigh 100-200 pounds. They grow from hatchling size quickly, reaching 6-10 inches within the first few years of their lives. The lifespan of an African Spurred Tortoise is anywhere from 50 to 150 years.” It’s one thing to read about these amazing creatures and quite another to meet a few of them personally. Back on that very first visit to the farm I remember being so surprised by the different personalities displayed by the tortoises.

After all the visits I’ve had with the tortoises over the last few years, they have come to know me. I make a point of taking lettuce for them each time I go, which they adore, and it’s easy to hand feed them with it; they have sharp, hard beaks so I’m very cautious when I hand them something. The biggest one is Rocky; he is dominate and sometimes pushes Imatort and Tinytort around, especially if a treat is involved. Tiny and Ima were rescued and not as well socialized as Rocky.

My friend told me she was never able to hand feed the two smaller torts. I was persistent about it; gently brushing lettuce leaves across their pulled-in head, until they couldn’t resist and slowly started nibbling. In no time, the two smaller tortoises became my friends, just like Rocky. While my human friends sit around swapping dog stories and snacking, following a day of training and running the dogs, I hang out with the torts. I’m not sure why I’m so fascinated by them; maybe because I’ve looked in their eyes and know an intelligent being dwells there. They have become my animal friends, know me and respond when they hear my voice.

I know this to be true because on my last visit to the farm, I forgot to take lettuce. I didn’t think about it until after being in the yard for a while; Rocky mobbed me, nearly shoved me over. I finally found a persimmon, bit off a couple small pieces and offered them to Rock. He loved it, but it was nerve racking for me; I was scared to death he’d accidently take my finger off. I only had a few pieces, so he followed me all over the place, expecting more treats. And then Ima and Tiny realized Rocky got a treat, so they joined the parade. I actually felt bad I showed up with no tortoise treats. After we left and were on the way home I got a text from my friend saying; “the torts are running around the yard looking for you”. Then I really felt bad.

It’s always fun introducing dogs to the torts; pictured here is my Toller, Topper, meeting Rocky for the first time. The torts are not at all worried about the many dogs running around and my friend told me that only one time, a new dog harassed Rocky, trying to flip the giant tortoise over. That dog was forever banned from the yard. It is so much fun to see fifteen or so dogs playing in the yard, and then have the torts come ambling by; the dog pack parts like the Red Sea as the torts make their way to a favored place for grazing.

Rebecca Settergren is an AKC approved CGC Evaluator, a member of the Dog Writers Association of America and a contributing columnist to the Post. Visit Out With The Dogs on Facebook: www.facebook.com/TailsWag

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