Tortoises can be clever escape artists who break free of their enclosures. That’s why it’s worth putting a tracker on a tortoise so that you can easily find it.
Once free, most will hide, burrow into the ground, or find a dark and sheltered place. To find your escaped tortoise, consider what would make good hiding spots and begin your search.
How To Find An Escaped Tortoise
Escaped tortoises will seek shelter and a warm temperature.
Since tortoises have poor hearing, they may be startled by strong vibrations or movement, mistaking this for predators. Tortoises can get into small spaces, overhangs, and shelters due to their advanced climbing and digging skills.
If your tortoise has gone missing indoors, they’ll opt for dark and secluded locations.
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 that 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 can be challenging when they hunker down outdoors, especially when the tortoise is small and more agile.
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 your tortoise doesn’t appear, you should check the following places:
- Under parked vehicles
- Inside any holes or suspected burrows
- Around or beneath rocks
- Inside, under, and around vegetation
- Near any garden ponds
- Inside curled-up water hoses
- Among gardening equipment
What to Do If You Lose Your Tortoise
Here are some steps you can take to ensure the safe return of your escaped tortoise:
Search the Perimeter
Expand your search from your backyard or the inside of your 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 your 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 your tortoise, this can encourage pet theft.
Talk To Animal Shelters And Pet Shops
Contact animal shelters, pet stores, local veterinarians, 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 will be beneficial to provide a recent photo with your contact information.
How Far Can A Tortoise Travel In A Day?
Knowing how far a tortoise can travel in a day will give you a rough idea of how far to extend your search.
According to the Journal for Nature Conservation, tortoises in Morocco can only travel 1 KM before overheating. They will need to take breaks to find shade, water, and burrow so they can recover in between. 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 your 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 notoriously sluggish travelers, able to travel about 15 feet in 43.5 sec (or about 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
- Species that likes to burrow, such as horsefield or desert tortoises
A single tortoise can make up to 40 burrows in one area. Usually, these burrows are shallow holes that your tortoise may use to hide from predators. However, brumation holes can be up to 30 feet deep and hard to find.
Such 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.
In the wild, tortoises remember their home burrows, traveling near them when searching for food and water. They have good memories and eyesight, enabling them to remember locations and navigate their way back.
Unfortunately, most lost pet tortoises are exposed to completely new terrain and may be scared into hunkering down or continuing their journey onward. Also, your tortoise may be prevented from returning home by fences, road traffic, and other activity that drives it in a completely different direction.
While putting out your pet’s favorite 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 food or water. Tortoises can survive long periods between meals and process water in their bodies.
If your tortoise has escaped, perform a thorough search. Most lost tortoises are discovered nearby, as they don’t travel too far from home. It’s more likely that your tortoise dug a burrow or hid in a secluded spot somewhere nearby.