Ty the tortoise was found just five miles from the home where she had originally escaped.
In 2020, Ty, a 60-pound sulcata tortoise, escaped from her home in Putnam County, Florida. For more than three years, her owners were left wondering about the whereabouts of the large reptile.
Then, on Oct. 21, 2023, Ty was spotted trying to cross a busy road. Not long afterward, she was taken by police officers to Florida’s Wildest Animal Rescue.
Police said in a post on Facebook that they were certain the at-the-time-unknown tortoise was someone’s pet, as it liked people and “head pats.” They also wrote that they were unsure of the tortoise’s sex and asked for help determining it. They later updated the post, confirming that Ty was, in fact, female.
“Anyone looking for a tortoise for a pet, this fella is not up for adoption,” the post reads. “If he is not positively claimed, the refuge has agreed to give him a home.”
The refuge posted on social media about the discovery, and some sharp-eyed readers thought the tortoise looked oddly familiar.
“A truly unbelievable story, it just goes to show you to never give up hope!” the rescue would later write on Facebook. “Yesterday Putnam County Sheriff’s Office brought us a sulcata tortoise that was found in town. After the post was shared hundreds of times, one of our followers sent us a post from April 2020 of a sulcata tortoise that looked similar, that went missing from the same area!”
In a Facebook post from 2020 after Ty’s disappearance, her owners mentioned that in the weeks after she escaped, there had been multiple sightings, but she would vanish before they could arrive.
“We haven’t given up looking but we need your help,” they wrote.
Just one day after the initial refuge post went up, Ty’s owner came forward.
As it turns out, Ty had escaped from her family’s yard just five miles away. According to the wildlife refuge, Ty was “in a little bit of rough shape from spending so many cold winters here without heat.”
Luckily, they said that Ty would ultimately be okay after a trip to the vet, which is not too shabby for a tortoise born and raised in captivity.
“What a happy ending!” they concluded. “We are so happy we were able to assist in reuniting her with her family!”
Commenters were happy to share in the celebration.
“Great news,” wrote Steven Bampi Lomax, “it’s always a good day when a lost animal is reunited with their family.”
Despite tortoises’ widespread perception as slow and lumbering, some are surprisingly slippery.
According to the sheriff’s office, African sulcata tortoises like Ty “are known escape artists and can dig out of their enclosures,” as wildlife experts at the refuge informed them.
Sulcata tortoises are native to the Sahara Desert, and they tend to thrive in semi-arid grassland regions. They are the third largest species of tortoise in the world, just shy of the Galapagos tortoise and the Aldabra giant tortoise. Sulcata tortoises are, however, the largest of all mainland tortoises.
Because they tend to live in such dry, arid regions, sulcatas often dig burrows into the ground to take shelter from the environment. This behavior also clearly enables them to escape from beneath fences.
Sulcatas’ penchant for escape artistry is well-known among Florida tortoise owners. In a comment under the refuge’s celebration of Ty’s return home, the admin of the Florida Sulcata Tortoise Owners Group on Facebook asked anyone who saw an errant tortoise to report it.
“There are always group members looking for their lost sulcatas.”
After reading about this happy reunion, meet Diego, the 130-year-old tortoise who helped bring his species back from the brink of extinction. Or, learn about the recent discovery of an ancient giant tortoise species that went extinct 600 years ago.