Nearly 100 tortoises and turtles evacuated from nonprofit conservancy in Ojai

Louis Sahagun

Keeping the rarest turtles safe and comfortable is their life’s work for managers of the nonprofit Turtle Conservancy’s Behler Chelonian Center in Ventura County, where ashes were falling like snow on Tuesday as they scrambled to evacuate their cherished reptiles.

For several frantic hours, they loaded dozens of specimens, including 30-pound adult ploughshare tortoises, baby pig-nosed turtles, radiated tortoises and golden coin turtles, which have been selling for thousands of dollars each since poachers started claiming that consuming extracts from the species could cure cancer.

Then there was the 400-pound Galapagos tortoise, which five strong men managed to load onto the back of a truck with hay.

By 3 p.m., nearly 100 tortoises and turtles confiscated by law enforcement authorities at airports and from illicit dealers around the world were safely heading north in a caravan bound for a warehouse in Atascadero.

“We had a carefully rehearsed rescue strategy and worked beautifully,” said Eric Goode, a spokesman for the facility. “Now, we’re just waiting out the wind and flames to see if these special creatures have a home to go back to.”