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Published: Friday, 7/23/2004

Who's Henry? Tortoise owner not hoodwinked

BY LINDSEY MERGENER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Henry the tortoise isn't the traveler his owner thought he was. In fact, he isn't even the tortoise his owner thought he was.

More than a week after the 30-pound African sulcata tortoise escaped from his outdoor enclosure near Black Road in Waterville Township, a Whitehouse man scooped up a tortoise fitting the same description Wednesday about 1/8 of a mile away and contacted Henry's owner.

If the newly found tortoise is Henry - which his 26-year-old owner, Connie Luderman, insists it is - the 6-year-old animal took eight days to make his trek. And what about the look-alike tortoise that, since being captured last week along Monclova Road in Monclova Township, about five miles from Henry's home, has been eating Henry's food and inhabiting his living space?

Well, he looks very much like the tortoise he unwittingly imitated.

"There's really no special markings so that you would be able to tell the difference between these two turtles," Ms. Luderman said. "It's just crazy that there would be another lost turtle that looks just like [Henry]."

David Spalding, 38, thought he saw debris in the middle of Black Road around 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, but when he got closer, he saw it looked more like a concrete turtle. And then it pulled in its head.

He said the animal was "extremely friendly," and his two children enjoyed playing with it after he brought it home and put it in a dog kennel.

Ms. Luderman, who was contacted by the family, picked up the animal Wednesday evening, he said.

The tortoise Ms. Luderman picked up last week doesn't quite act like Henry, she said. In fact, its way of walking and tolerance of being touched near the head - something Henry doesn't like - made her realize something was amiss. She said she hopes to find its owner and has taken both animals to the vet.

For now, she is letting the extra tortoise stay in an outdoor enclosure with Henry and his brother, Humphrey.

R. Andrew Odum, the Toledo Zoo's reptile curator, said African sulcata tortoises are common in the pet trade. Some people buy 2 to 3-inch long baby tortoises, which in time can become large, strong, and destructive, he said.

Many U.S. pet stores sell the reptiles, which easily reach 80 to 110 pound.s and often weigh more than 120 pounds when they are grown, according to the Phoenix Zoo. The largest on record weighed in at 232 pounds.

"Containment is not easy" for larger tortoises like Henry, Mr. Odum added.

Apparently both creatures chose the right weather for walking. Native to some of the hottest and driest areas in northern parts of Africa, sulcatas are used to heat like that the animals faced during their travels over the past week.

They couldn't survive an Ohio winter, Mr. Odum said, but the current weather "is just wonderful for them."

Contact Lindsey Mergener at:

lmergener@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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