Be on the lookout for 200 lbs. tortoise | Local News

LAKE PARK — Attention: Be on the lookout for escape. Subject is 2.5 feet tall, 200 lbs., answers to the name of “Diego.” No distinguishing scars.

Subject is a tortoise.

Subject was last seen three weeks ago at the home of his owner, Kristen Jenkins in Lake Park.

“I came home, and he had broken the fence to his pen,” she said., “He does weigh 200 lbs., after all.”

Jenkins was hired by the Wild Adventures park in Clyattville in 2016, working with park animals.

When the park decided to downsize its tortoise collection some years back, Jenkins asked if she could take Diego home, and the park agreed, she said.

Diego had been at the park for more than 13 years, said Adam Floyd, director of sales and marketing for Wild Adventures. The tortoises were relocated in 2020 when the park was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a multiyear construction project began nearby, he said.

Diego was given to Jenkins to care for on her farm while the other tortoises were sent to other zoological facilities, Floyd said.

“When he was at the park, he weighed 60-80 lbs. and he was maybe 30 years old, ”she said. “He’s grown like a weed since then.”

Diego is a sulcata tortoise, Jenkins said. Sulcata tortoises—also known as African spurred tortoises—are the third-largest tortoise species, with a lifespan of 80-100 years, according to the San Diego Zoo’s website. They are native to the southern edge of Africa’s Sahara desert.

Sulcata tortoises are regarded as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which cites loss of habitat, climate change and use for meat and eggs as primary reasons for the species’ decline.

Jenkins is concerned for Diego’s well-being not for fear of going hungry — he eats mostly grass and vegetation — but because reptiles are cold-blooded creatures and winter is approaching.

“Cold-blooded animals need help keeping their body temperatures normal” when cold weather arrives, she said.

Jenkins lives near a lake, but she said it’s unlikely Diego would head for the water since he is a land tortoise.

“Right now, roads are going to be his biggest danger,” she said.

Flyers, social media posts and billboards have been used to alert the public to Diego’s situation.

His disappearance was reported to Lowndes County Animal Control, Jenkins said. Anyone who spots Diego can call Jenkins at 229-548-0291.

“Kristen Jenkins is an excellent zookeeper and has provided exceptional care for Diego. We hope he is located soon, and we will be there to celebrate his safe return,” Floyd said.

Terry Richards is the senior reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times.


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