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Nadine Highfield


Anyone who has lost a turtle or tortoise, even momentarily, knows the feeling of near heart-stopping panic. Often the animal has merely been out of sight, and once found the happy, but shaken, owner give a sigh of relief.  But when they are not so quickly found that sense of panic becomes overwhelming, and at the very time when clear thinking and a systematic search is what is really needed to find the missing pet. Knowing what to do in the event of a missing pet can redirect the panic into decisive constructive action.

First, if possible, call together any members of the household and conduct a search of the area. If it is an outside pen, carefully search every square inch of ground. Note any loose soil that may be evidence that the tortoise has burrowed down. This can happen, especially when the weather has been very cool or very warm. Look around and under rocks and vegetation; anywhere the tortoise may have burrowed down out of sight.

  • Tortoises lost in a house will normally seek out a dark spot underneath something. So carefully inspect under furniture and appliances, and any place where the tortoise could have squeezed through. Unfortunately, the missing tortoise may not come out for food or water. Again, a thorough inch-by-inch search is the best way to find them.
  • Morning sunlight may bring a tortoise out of its hiding place to bask, so look carefully at this time if it hasn't been found yet.
  • Quickly alerting the neighborhood by posting large easy to read signs will make them aware that any tortoise found may be a missing pet, not a wild tortoise. Include a physical description and photo on the sign if possible. There have been cases of missing tortoises found by well-meaning neighbors that moved them further away to the woods or other natural area. They may also be picked up and kept as personal pets. The more the word is spread about the missing pet, the better the chance that it will be quickly returned. Don't forget to post signs in any local businesses, as well.
  • Contact the police, animal shelters within a 20-mile radius, pet stores or other pet-related businesses, veterinarians, nature centers, zoos… anywhere where someone might bring a lost tortoise, or ask for care information. Send them a photo.
  • Place an advertisement in your local papers. Check your local cables television station if you have one - it may have a community bulletin board that repeats information all day. There are also on-line lost and found pet websites. The more exposure the situation gets, the better your chances that someone who knows something will see it.

A word of caution: If you do offer a reward for information leading to the return of your tortoise, don't give out money unless the tortoise is returned. Sadly, some unscrupulous individuals may take advantage of your loss to make a quick profit.

Good photographs of your pet allow you to have a clear picture for identification in the event that it is lost. This can be very helpful both in posting lost pet announcements, and to prove ownership of the recovered tortoise. If your tortoise has been micro-chipped, keep a note of the chip serial number, the type of chip used, and include this information on all notices and appeals that you issue. 

If you suspect that your pet has been stolen, providing pictures that clearly show identifying characteristics could tip off a veterinarian or any individual who sees a tortoise or turtle of that description.

If you do not find your pet, know that you have done the best you could. Any form of pet loss is devastating, but because of the lack of closure, a missing pet not found is a particularly heart-wrenching situation. But, regardless of the form of pet loss, there are both books (for adults and children) that can help at this time, and a variety of pet loss services, including hot-lines run by veterinary colleges that can offer emotional support.

As springtime approaches it's a good time to carefully inspect all outdoor tortoise pens and barriers around turtle ponds. Other animals can occasionally break or burrow under fencing or gnaw through the flooring in tropical houses, and the weather itself will take its toll, particularly in damp areas and those with more severe winters.  Tortoises seem very good at discovering these opportunities for adventure, and unless you find them before they do, you could have an unexpected escape on your hands.

  • To provide better protection against theft, do insure that people passing by your property cannot see your pet. Shrubbery or privacy fencing will offer additional security.
  • Knowing what to do if a tortoise or turtle ever does wander off will greatly increase the chances of recovery, and by routinely checking pens and other housing, and taking some security precautions, hopefully they never will.