Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tortoise Requiem

The girls came back up the hill from planting bulbs under the pine trees with their aunt, full of the tiny tortoise they had found. He was smaller than their hands, so tiny he must have been a baby. Unfortunately he was also rather dead.

So small and so perfectly formed in every detail, his shell still soft, he must have been quite newly hatched when he came a cropper and perhaps got stranded on his back. We’ll never know.

There are lots of wild tortoises here. After summer rain our journeys along the 3km dirt road are punctuated by halts to avoid tortoises crossing. Sometimes we’re impelled to stop and help them across the road, so they don’t get squashed by a truck. Occasionally we’ll come face to face with one on a stroll through the bushes on our farm. The local variety of tortoise is small and quite fast and they vanish under cover in no time, well camouflaged in the dry restios and scrub. They love strawberries and tend to seem much less cute, when you find all the best berries have had a tortoise sized bite taken out of them. Occasionally we rescue a small torty from the dogs who view the bite-sized ones as an interestingly exotic antipasto.

At the opposite end of the tortoise spectrum, we also have some rescued Cape Mountain tortoises on the farm, which are huge and very old. They are kept in a large enclosure and are hand fed delicacies such as lettuce and grapes daily. We used to allow them to roam freely, but then they wandered much too freely and we had to raise a ransom to buy them back from the local community on the other side of our back fence – apparently tortoises are a traditional bush meat delicacy…

This little one is the smallest we’ve ever seen – the matchbox is a standard small one – the matches are longer than the tortoise. My sister-in-law is going to take him to a resting place in our circle, once we have all duly admired his minuteness and perfection of shell.


  1. requiescat in pace! i think apart from the extra burden an animal would mean, pets are to avoid just because the kids are always devastated when they die... i know it's life and it teaches them a lesson, but i have always found it quite cruel. it still breaks my heart when i think of my brother at the deathbed of his budgee...

  2. Yes - my children were very upset by the sudden death of their first guinea-pig (in the jaws of one of the dogs) but on the whole they have learned to be philosophical and accept it as part of life. There are so many animals around, both wild and pets that we can't really avoid it. Though it's hard, I think it's a part of growing up... but I wouldn't get a pet just to teach them that lesson!

  3. Oh, how tiny he is - poor mite. I remember having loads of tortoises in the garden when we were growing up, but somehow in recent years there have been fewer and fewer. Lucky you to have the mountain tortoises on the farm - they are fabulous!


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