This tale began 12 years ago. My husband (at the time my very new boyfriend), Ross and I made a pilgrimage to my family’s farm in Mpumalanga with two tiny leopard tortoises – each about the size of a matchbox. A work colleague had asked me if we could give them a home on the farm.
By the time we arrived, Ross, with his love of irony, had already come up with the names Schumi and Monty, derived from the then popular racing drivers, Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Somewhere along the line, a third tortoise joined the mix. A friend of my brother rescued the poor thing from somewhere – it had a hole drilled through a corner of its shell, which the previous owners had used to tie it up.
We weren’t sure of the sexes of the tortoises, but as the years went by, the one grew noticeably larger than the other. We did a little research, and found out that female tortoises usually grow larger than their male counterparts. Our vet confirmed this.
We learnt it’s fairly easy to sex a tortoise. Turn the tortoise gently (they HATE being turned over – it could lead to a slow, horrible death) – if the underside is totally flat, it’s a female; if the underside is concave, it’s a male and the “hollow” enables him to mount the female more easily during mating.
It turned out that the one we had named Monty was the female. She and Schumi lived happily in what had previously been a large dog run, with lots of grass to munch on, and a kennel with hay in it for shelter. My mom, who loves all living creatures (well, perhaps with the exception of mice and snakes) took the job of caring for the pair very seriously, chopping fresh cucumber and lettuce for them every day and making sure they always had clean water.
Somewhere along the line, a third tortoise joined the mix. A friend of my brother rescued the poor thing from somewhere – it had a hole drilled through a corner of its shell, which the previous owners had used to tie it up. In keeping with the naming tradition, he (we think it was another male) was given the name Senna.
Anyway, the years came and went, and the three of them recently outgrew the dog run, pulling all the grass out by the roots until it no longer grew back. They would circle the run over and over, looking very frustrated. So my mom started doing research as to where she could take her three testudine babies – the thought of letting them go on the farm and risking them landing up in a cooking pot (apparently that does happen) or not coping in the wild, was too much for her to bear. A friend told her about the Dullstroom Birds of Prey and Rehabilitation Centre, which accepts tortoises.
To cut a long story short, that’s where our esteemed racing trio is now. Hopefully, that is where they will peacefully live out the rest of their days – of which there will probably be many, as they’ll most likely outlive the rest of the family!
My mom is slowly recovering from the emotional farewell and has been reassured by the centre that she can visit her kids any time: “Just think of it as sending them to summer camp,” she was told.
I am a frazzled working mom who loves her husband and her children. All six of them – two human, two canine and two feline. I spend most of my day managing the crazy chaos that is my awesome life, and what’s left, writing about it … Read more