YORK COUNTY, S.C. —
A South Carolina mom said her heart dropped the moment she realized the family’s beloved pet tortoise was missing.
“My kids were devastated,” Erica Turner told NBC Charlotte.
The great escape artist was named Drago, an 18-pound sulcata tortoise the Turners found at a construction site in south Charlotte about six years ago.
“He’s a celebrity at school because we take him to school for show and tell,” Turner said.
The incident happened a few weeks ago when Turner and her young children, who live in Indian Land, took the tortoise to a friend’s house in Catawba. The kids built Drago an enclosure outside where he stayed the night.
The next morning, the children moved the enclosure into the shade and went inside the house to have breakfast. When they came out, Drago was gone.
“It was one of those things where you keep looking,” Turner said. “I kept looking out the window, I’m like, he’s somewhere, we’re just not seeing him.”
They spent the next nine hours looking for the tortoise in the cold rain. Friends helped with the search, but Drago was nowhere to be found.
As the days went by, and Drago was still missing, Turner was leery about putting something about him online. She was afraid someone would find him and keep him. Or worse yet, sell him.
“There’s no tellin’ where this tortoise is by now,” Turner thought.
After more than a week had passed, Turner decided she had nothing left to lose and posted a picture of Drago on the Lost & Found Cats & Dogs of York County, SC Facebook page.
“I don’t know if this is allowed,” Turner said she was thinking when she made the post, “but we’re really desperate at this point. We want to find him.”
The post read, “We lost our tortoise last weekend in Catawba off of S. Anderson Rd. Please let us know if you've seen him.”
“When we put it on Facebook, the kids were ecstatic, they were in tears, excited about it,” Turner told NBC Charlotte.
Word spread on social media, and it didn’t take long for Turner to be connected with Tabitha Campbell, wildlife rehabilitator and hospital manager at Baxter Veterinary Clinic.
“I love tortoises. I have four of my own,” Campbell said.
It turns out a man had found Drago in his yard – about four miles away from Turner’s friend’s home in Catawba.
The man called Carolina Waterfowl Rescue. The staff got him in touch with wildlife rehabilitator Jessica Johns-Steinke who then asked Campbell to take care of the tortoise while they looked for the owner.
“‘Where do you think he came from? Are these found around here?’” Johns-Steinke asked Campbell.
“I said, No, he probably escaped from somewhere,’” Campbell replied.
During nearly a week-long stay at Campbell’s home, the tortoise bunked with a bunny and two fawns.
“He (Drago) ate a lot of greens, had some tomatoes, tried to eat my toes a couple times. But he had a good vacation, said Campbell.
When Turner was told Drago had been found, she didn’t believe it at first. Turner was convinced the tortoise must have flipped over somewhere and not been able to get back up or dried up from lack of moisture.
“He’s very spoiled,” Turner said. “I don’t know how good his (instincts are), yeah, his wilderness skills.”
But after Campbell sent Turner a video of the runaway tortoise, she knew it was Drago by the way he walked and some distinctive markings on his shell.
“Though I am happy he gets to go back home to his family, I’m kinda sad to lose him also because I’ve really enjoyed having him with me,” Campbell said. “You can just tell he is really well cared for and has a great family.”
“You’re welcome to come visit anytime!” Turner told Campbell.
Campbell added Turner had every reason to be cautious about putting Drago’s disappearance on Facebook. A tortoise of his size and condition is a rare find.
“The larger they are, the more valuable they are, because the more uncommon they are,” Campbell said.
Tortoises like Drago can sell for anywhere between $200 and $400, according to Campbell.
“He may be more monetarily valuable than that, but I can’t imagine, like you said, that you could put a price on the value he is to your family,” Campbell told Turner.
“We’re very grateful for you guys, especially taking care of him,” Turner told Campbell.
The next step is getting Drago microchipped so his family doesn’t have to go through this again. But for now, they’re just happy to have him home.
“I’m glad I put the post on there,” said Turner.
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