This tortoise coud not get enough of the feel of the grass under its feet. Pictured here with Inspector Lawrence Khodobo of the Louis Trichardt SPCA. Photo supplied.
Date: 27 January 2019 By: Jo Robinson
One tortoise had a lucky escape last week when the local SPCA staff and volunteers were handing out flyers in search of a missing dog. They really do get around into all corners of Louis Trichardt and surrounds this way and very often come across animals being ill-treated or kept illegally.
Alicia Thomas told the Zoutpansberger that this tortoise was found in a rubble-filled enclosure measuring approximately one square metre in diameter, together with spent fireworks and not much else on a hard cement floor. The SPCA volunteers who found the animal in this state were appalled to discover that it had been kept locked up there like that for a year already.
According to the people holding it, they had seen it walking across a road while on a trip in the Cape, so they picked it up and put in in their boot, thereby “rescuing” it. “Regardless of the fact that some people still believe that they are entitled to keep any sort of wild creature as a ‘pet’,” said Alicia, “this is against the law. If they try to insist on keeping it, it then becomes a police matter and there will obviously be penalties involved.” According to the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA), “[i]ndigenous tortoises may not be kept in captivity or removed from the wild without the required permit from Nature Conservation authorities”.
This particular tortoise was confiscated, and when it was placed on the lawn at the SPCA premises in Vondeling Road, it just walked and walked, according to Alicia. It could not get enough of the fresh grass under its feet. “We are just so glad that it is free now,” she said. After enquiries were made to the relevant conservation authorities for a suitable area to release the tortoise, Inspector Lawrence Khodobo returned it to the wild in the Waterpoort district, where it will hopefully live out the rest of its days unmolested by “rescuers”. Any residents who are holding wild animals in captivity are encouraged to contact the SPCA sooner rather than later, both for the benefit of the animal and to avoid facing prosecution if they are reported or otherwise found out.
The NSPCA states that when it comes to tortoises, their distribution is not accidental. “It has taken place over hundreds of thousands of years. Different species have evolved and adapted to different areas, and these areas supply them with their essentials for survival such as food, shelter and the chance of finding a mate. Tortoise distribution is very often linked to instinctive food preferences such as succulents and particular wild flowers. A tortoise may starve to death if released in an area in which their known food plants do not occur. Certain species of tortoises have adapted to survive in particular climatic regions. Releasing it into an area with harsh winter or summer conditions, with which it is not familiar, is as good as signing its death warrant.”
Protection is provided in the wild for tortoises, and even though they are not particularly fast, they cover large areas in their travels. If held in captivity, they require large areas with enough vegetation, soil, and places to find shelter, food, water, shade and sunshine. Note must be taken of poisonous plants or substances and hazards to tortoises in particular. These animals require other specific treatment to ensure their safety and comfort when not in the wild, which is why they are best not captured or “rescued” unless a real need exists for rescue, such as injury. “In this case,” said Alicia, “contact the SPCA immediately for help.”
If you have any wild animal that may not be kept legally or know of anyone else who is doing so, please contact the local SPCA as soon as possible. “Our aim is to help the animal rather than to prosecute people,” said Alicia. “Please report any such cases without fear of repercussion. Anonymity is fine.” People who come forward and surrender captive wildlife once they realise that they should not have them are not going to get into trouble. Contact Inspector Lawrence Khodobo 082 965 5151 or Alicia Thomas 084 900 5332 at the Louis Trichardt SPCA for further information or assistance.
Jo joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in 2018 pursuing a career in journalism after many years of writing fiction and non-fiction for other sectors.
The appalling conditions the tortoise was kept in for a year after it had been "rescued" out of the wild. Photo supplied.
Keeping any indigenous wildlife in captivity is illegal. Penalties can include either fines or jail time, or both. After a year of being locked up in rubble, this tortoise and its captors had a lucky escape. Photo supplied.