Tortoise escapes, found in Havasu a year later

May 1, 2019

Even a tortoise can get homesick, as one Lake Havasu City woman found out this year.

More than a year after escaping from an enclosure at a Palisades Drive residence, a pet desert tortoise has returned home after traveling more than a mile to its owner’s former home.

Havasu resident Renee Johnson’s family had just moved from their old residence on Avalon Drive, and the 41-year-old tortoise’s enclosure had changed very little after the move. It had never escaped until April 2018.

For 10 years, Gert was a beloved family pet. Obtained under a special permit, Gert was kept in an enclosure approved by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. With walls almost two feet high and reinforced with rocks, escape was the last thing Johnson expected.

“Unfortunately we underestimated her agility,” Johnson said. “She climbed over a small wall of rocks we had in front of her enclosure. After she scaled the rocks, she was able to get under a fence that was not secure.”

After the tortoise’s disappearance, Johnson began a series of social media campaigns, contacted several lost-and-found pages and enlisted neighbors to search for Gert. Months later, Gert was sighted in its old Avalon Drive neighborhood.

“A (former) neighbor was talking with the new residents of our old house, and they mentioned the pool guy had seen a tortoise in their yard,” Johnson said. “We met with the new owners in October and they showed us a picture. It was Gert!”

According to Johnson, they searched for Gert under a nearby outbuilding, she says the tortoise may already have gone into hibernation. Desert tortoises are known to burrow underground during cooler months of the year, only emerging when spring arrives.

Johnson says Gert was seen again on April 15, when an Avalon Drive resident found the tortoise in her driveway and brought Gert home.

“Apparently she missed her old digs,” Johnson said. “She appears to be happy and we are ecstatic. We had everyone praying for her safe return and we got it.”

Desert tortoises can grow as large as 15 pounds and can live as long as 100 years. They are only allowed to be kept as pets by Arizona people and families under special permission from the Arizona Game and Fish Department, which holds annual adoptions for desert tortoises in captivity.

“(Gert) is actually pretty easy,” Johnson said. “We feed her kale, carrots, okra and some other veggies twice a day. She comes out when it warms up, but is usually content down in her burrow … obviously she’s not warm and cuddly but she makes a great yard companion when she’s out and about.”

For more information about the Arizona Game and Fish Department Tortoise Adoption Program, visit https://www.azgfd.com/wildlife/nongamemanagement/tortoise/captivecare/.