Have I inadvertantly killed my friend’s tortoises?
It’s April. It’s spring. The daffodils and the cowslips are in flower. The birds are chirping merrily. But where are the tortoises? There were two of them, a big one called Alice and a small one called Gertrude. They have been in my care since last summer when a friend, their owner, moved from her London house, which had a garden, into a flat nearby, which hadn’t. So the tortoises came up here to my house in Northamptonshire to be looked after by me.
I put them in a patch of garden, about 20 yards by 15, surrounded by walls and yew hedges. Within these was erected a chicken-wire fence, buried into the ground so that they couldn’t escape; and there they stayed happily from June until the autumn when the weather got cold and they disappeared, presumably to hibernate.
Tortoises can live a very long time. According to Wikipedia, the oldest tortoise ever recorded was Tu’i Malila, which was allegedly presented in 1777 by Captain Cook to the Tongan royal family, with whom it remained until it died in 1965 aged 188. Nobody knows exactly how old Alice and Gertrude were when they came here, but it’s thought that Gertrude might have been around 20 and Alice around 50. In any event, they had lived happily for years in their London garden, disappearing to hibernate in the autumn and reappearing again in the spring.