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Patrick Springer, Published June 02 2011

Tortoise tale may have ending

OAKES, N.D. – The mystery of how an African sulcata tortoise ended up in Ben Nelson’s farm field this spring has been partially solved.

Judith Klein, who lives near here, believes the dead tortoise was her pet Bryce, who went missing from a backyard pen late last summer.

He vanished without a trace.

When Klein returned home from work one afternoon in late August or early September, she found he was missing from his pen.

The meshed metal barrier had been pushed in, but there were no footprints or drag marks, which usually are left behind by a tortoise.

An animal such as a large dog could have done it, but the absence of any tracks or drag marks suggests it might have been a person, Klein said Wednesday.

“Something definitely tried to get at him,” she said.

Klein searched all over, starting in neighboring pastures and fields, but found nothing.

The discovery of the dead tortoise was reported last week in The Forum a few days after Ben Nelson discovered it, left with some debris deposited by the receding James River.

Perhaps, with the weather turning cooler, Bryce was able to burrow underground. If so, he likely was dislodged by water last fall.

Klein doesn’t believe he would have survived the winter because African sulcata tortoises need warm weather. He was kept inside overnight and during cold weather with fellow African sulcata tortoise Zion.

Bryce, 16 or 17 years old, recognized Klein and would playfully chase his owner. He liked to have his shell rubbed, and would groan in protest if he was brought in before he was ready.

“We’re not going to replace Bryce,” Klein said. But she hopes to keep Zion, who is 7, a good long time. African sulcatas can live to be 80 or 100 years old.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522