The Case Of The Tethered Tortoise

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While inspectors at the Cape of Good Hope SPCA were busy attending to a cruelty case concerning two dogs being kept on short chains in a backyard, a few kilometres away Inspector Lwazi Ntungele was also attending to a complaint of an animal kept on a short chain in someone’s yard, but instead of finding a dog on a chain, he found instead a… tortoise!

Following up on a complaint to the SPCA about an animal tethered to a pole in a backyard while being denied access to clean drinking water and proper shelter, Inspector Lwazi recalls his surprise upon arrival at the property.

“Entering the dusty yard, I was looking around for a dog but immediately saw this very large tortoise tethered on a short rope that was tied around a pole. There was some sort of container nearby with nothing in it but algal growth, I assume that was once its water bowl,” he recounts. 

He then noticed that there was not a scrap of greenery around that might indicate the tortoise had access to the sort of fresh plant matter a large tortoise needs in its daily diet. As for shelter; an old table was placed on its side with a bit of cardboard for a roof. When asked by our inspector why he felt the need to keep the tortoise on a chain, the ‘owner’ claimed that it was to keep the tortoise from wandering off. “I asked him why he even had a tortoise in the first place. He claimed that the tortoise walked up to his front door one day and that was a sign for him to keep it as a pet.” The tortoise was immediately removed from the property under the terms of the Animals Protection Act. Keeping indigenous wildlife as a pet without the requisite permits is against the law in terms of the Nature Conservation Ordinance of the Western Cape. The “owner” was issued with a formal warning stating that he may not keep any wild animal, especially not indigenous tortoises, on the property.

Inspector Lwazi wasted no time in untying the tortoise and bringing it to the Cape of Good Hope SPCA Wildlife Department for care, proper food and medical attention.

Cape of Good Hope SPCA Wildlife Department Supervisor Jon Friedman comments that “the Cape of Good Hope SPCA Wildlife Department receives, and removes tens of tortoises each week; rescued from situations where they are kept either chained up in people’s yards, slowly dismembered for body parts to be used as ingredients in traditional medicine recipes, or to be kept as pets. Tortoises walk incredibly far distances in a day in the search for food, water and the company of their own kind. They are also hugely intelligent animals capable of feeling pain, fear, frustration, hunger, boredom and loneliness and their specific dietary needs mean that they do not make ideal pets.”

Our motto is that “wild animals belong in the wild,” and this very definitely includes tortoises.

Our Wildlife Inspectors work to help wild animals in distress, and to bring an end to the illegal keeping, import and sale of exotic animals as pets. Support our cause by making a monthly donation.

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