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Alf, the wayward teen tortoise, returns home to Lake Cowichan

Sep 19 2012

The African spurred tortoise found plodding along Cowichan Lake Road is back home with her relieved owners on a farm near Lake Cowichan.

The tortoise was taken to the Island Wildlife Natural Care Centre earlier this month.

Owners Cody Bell and Victor Gough had been searching for the reptile since it disappeared after an enclosure gate was accidentally left open during a family gathering, said Jackie Ballerone, director of the wildlife centre.

Called Alf - the owners thought she was a he - the tortoise has been with the family for 15 years, Ballerone said.

"She was bred in captivity and the family has known her since egghood," she said.

"She's a teenager, which probably explains the running away from home."

The owners identified Alf through a spot of blue paint on her shell and were asked to send photos of her at home to confirm her identity, Ballerone said.

"They just love her to death. She's going home, which is the best, and we saw pictures of her really, really big enclosure."

It is hard to know whether a tortoise is showing emotion, but Alf seemed pleased to see Bell and Gough.

"She came right out of her shell and extended her legs fully - which is something we hadn't seen," Ballerone said.

"Is that a turtle hug? I don't know."

The lifespan of African spurred tortoises, the third largest species of tortoise in the world, is 50 to 150 years. While Alf weighs about seven kilograms, the reptiles can grow up to 91 kilograms.

In the wild, African spurred tortoises usually live in the Sahara desert.

The number of spurred tortoises is shrinking due to poaching and habitat loss and the species is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Export of wild-caught spurred tortoises is forbidden.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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