Grocott's Mail


- Tony Jackman

this journey was to present to me a story, and I decided that the first tortoise I encountere­d on that drive, who I nicknamed Tata, was a fella.

He had just strolled on to the road from below, headed across and, presumably, intended to make his way slowly up the other side.

I approached him, he retreated, and I picked his hefty weight up and carried him across, putting him as far into the veld at the other side as I could without climbing the mountain.

There was a stand-off for a while. I moved away and watched him from my car. He slowly peeked his head out, winked at me, and made off up the slope.

So, tortoises climb mountains. Evidently.

Back on the road, I had driven about 30km on towards Bedford when I spied another tortoise, this one only the size of one rugby ball, but somewhat heavier.

This mama wasn’t necessaril­y crossing the road. She was wandering this way and that, perhaps in search of Tata, who’d gone AWOL the previous evening.

Or week. Or month, given he was 30km away by now, and hoofing it up a mountain. Maybe he had a bit of something on the side and mama wasn’t too thrilled.

I picked her up and deposited her on the verge, and watched as she made off well off the road before I drove on.

Only to find, about 10km from Bedford, little Thulani, shiny and new, his carapace a geometric blaze of brilliant brown hues.

What a beauty, and so small and vulnerable, barely bigger than a cricket ball.

Seconds after I had moved him off the road, a giant 4x4 sped by at great speed, with no hint of slowing even though I was in the road.

The little fella would not have made it.

“Your reptiles are all leopard tortoises, one of three species in this area,” Prof Villet explained this week after I had emailed him the pictures I took on my iPhone and some questions.

“The colour changes are characteri­stic of their ageing process. With summer coming and the soil softening because of the rain, the tortoises are becoming more active because breeding conditions are improving.”

If one driver can spot three tortoises of greatly varying ages on one 90km stretch of road, there must be many other drivers who see them. What to do?

“Many tortoises are killed on the roads, says Prof Villet, “and even going ‘over’ them can smash the tops of their shells like a boiled egg and break their spines. You did the best things possible: move them over a fence and DON’T take them home.”

There we have it: Stop, move them over a fence, wave them on their (very slow) way, and don't make pets of them. But there's no harm in giving them cute names like Tata, Mama and Thulani, given that you may have saved their lives. And that's worth doing.

 ?? Photos: TONY JACKMAN ?? Tata was a big fella, the size of two rugby balls.
Photos: TONY JACKMAN Tata was a big fella, the size of two rugby balls.
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