Tortoises can be clever escape artists who break free of their enclosures. That’s why it’s worth putting a tracker on a tortoise to quickly and easily find them.
Some tortoises escape their enclosures by digging under the sides, finding weak and vulnerable areas, or climbing over the top due to the position of enrichment items.
Once free, most tortoises will burrow into the ground and hide or find a dark and sheltered place. To find an escaped tortoise, consider what would make good hiding spots and commence your search.
How To Find An Escaped Tortoise
Escaped tortoises will seek shelter and a warm temperature because they’re ectotherms.
Since tortoises have poor hearing, they can be startled by vibrations or movement, mistaking this for predators. Tortoises enter small spaces and shelters due to their climbing and digging skills.
If a tortoise has gone missing indoors, they’ll opt for dark and secluded locations. So, these should be the first locations that you check:
- Under tables, beds, and other furniture.
- Behind or under household appliances.
- Around houseplants.
- Poorly-lit corners.
- Beneath laundry or blankets.
- Under long-hanging curtains or bed skirting.
- Behind doors.
- Next to garbage cans.
- In your closet, especially behind boxes.
Remember, tortoises are cold-blooded animals and can’t regulate their body temperatures.
A tortoise will have unlimited space to traverse and many places to hide.
The good news is that escaped tortoises are usually discovered near their home. Even when they can, tortoises rarely travel vast distances.
The real problem is that tortoises are accomplished hiders. Locating them outdoors can be challenging, especially with small and more agile tortoise species.
Start by looking for dark and sheltered spaces, including the following:
- Playhouses or jungle gyms
- Wood piles
- Along the sides of your home
- Underneath decks or porches
- Dog houses
- Against fences
If the tortoise doesn’t appear, check the following places:
- Underneath parked vehicles.
- Inside any holes or suspected burrows.
- Around or beneath rocks.
- Inside, under, and around vegetation.
- Near any garden ponds.
- In curled-up water hoses.
- Among gardening equipment.
What to Do If You Lose Your Tortoise
Tortoises are naturally curious explorers, excellent burrowers, and good at climbing. So, a calm, clear-headed approach is the best way to get a tortoise back.
Here are some steps to ensure the safe return of an escaped tortoise:
Search The Perimeter
Expand your search from the backyard or in the home and check the perimeter of your property. This includes looking in the following places:
- Outside of the fence line.
- Underneath bushes.
- Behind gate posts.
Assemble a household search party and get everyone to look for the lost tortoise.
Notify neighbors that a tortoise has gone missing, asking them to check their yards and home perimeters.
Some may volunteer to join your search party, while others will keep an eye out over the coming hours or days. That’s important for anyone driving, as they’ll know to check under their cars before driving off.
If you don’t find the tortoise the next day, put up flyers and advertise to local groups on social media.
While you may be tempted to offer a reward for finding the tortoise, this can encourage pet theft.
Talk To Animal Shelters And Pet Shops
Contact animal shelters, pet stores, local vets, nature centers, and even zoos within a 20-mile radius. Talk to any person, business, or charity where a missing or injured tortoise would be brought in for care.
It’ll be beneficial to provide a recent photo with your contact information.
How Far Can A Tortoise Travel In A Day?
According to the Journal for Nature Conservation, tortoises in Morocco travel 1 KM before overheating.
They’ll need to take breaks to find shade and water. The study revealed that the average tortoise in this region only travels 0.5 KM between breaks.
According to Copeia, wind speed and humidity will also impact the tortoise’s speed.
Dryer climates will encourage the tortoise to move more slowly to avoid dehydration, and heavy winds will slow down how quickly tortoises can move and encourage them to find a resting place.
Giant tortoises are slow movers, traveling about 15 feet in 43.5 sec (or 0.23 mph).
Smaller tortoises can travel further due to their natural pacing behavior. For example, gopher tortoises can walk about 0.30 miles per hour.
How To Find A Buried Tortoise
Tortoises are most likely to burrow if the following apply:
- Exposed to overly cold or hot temperatures.
- Access to soft topsoil.
- Burrowing species like horsefield or desert tortoises.
A single tortoise can make up to 40 burrows in one area. Usually, these burrows are shallow holes that the tortoise may use to hide. However, brumation holes can be up to 30 feet deep and hard to find.
These burrows take time, so the tortoise is unlikely to hide too deep if it was only recently lost.
Can Tortoises Find Their Way Home?
Lost tortoises can’t easily find their way home because they’re unfamiliar with the terrain. More likely, they have no desire to return to their owner and plan to create a new territory with greater freedom.
Wild tortoises remember their home burrows, traveling near them when searching for food and water. They have good memories and eyesight, enabling them to recall locations and navigate their way back.
Unfortunately, most lost pet tortoises are exposed to new terrain and may be scared into hunkering down or continuing their journey onward. Also, the tortoise may be prevented from returning home by fences, road traffic, and other activity that drives it in a different direction.
While putting out food and water may seem like a good idea, it rarely achieves anything.
A tortoise forced to burrow for comfort or safety is unlikely to come out for sustenance. Tortoises can survive long periods between meals and process water in their bodies.
Most lost tortoises are discovered nearby, as they don’t travel too far from home. It’s more likely that the tortoise dug a burrow or hid in a secluded spot somewhere nearby.