A 200-pound tortoise broke out of his enclosure and wound up 30 miles away from his Alabama residence
It is fitting that it should be called Spark Plug.
The surprisingly nimble African spurred turtle, estimated to be 60 years old, returned to his home in Sardis City last week after two days on the run, its owner Ty Harris told CNN. It was the first time that the family turtle attempted to escape.
“He just went into town a little,” said Harris. “He had to go on a trip.”
Harris and his wife, a school teacher and principal, were at school when Sparkplug fled. Harris said the hard-shell runaway must have pressed against the fence until he broke the chain link and let himself out.
“I wasn’t worried about anything hurting him,” Harris said, noting Sparkplug’s shell armor and scaly legs. “I was worried when it got cold.”
The spark plug relies on artificial heat during the autumn and winter months to regulate its body temperature. Without that, Harris feared he would freeze.
There was a limited window to bring the spark plug home
So the race was on. With limited time before a cold front hit, Harris shared a photo from Sparkplug with a request to return it to Facebook, where friends shared his post widely.
Finally the photo of the spark plug got to the man who found it. He told Harris that Sparkplug made it about 100 yards from the house and crossed a street when he found the turtle, picked him up (an accomplishment given the size of Sparkplug), and put him in the back of a truck have lifted.
The man owned land about 30 miles away and dropped the sturdy turtle by a pond on his sprawling estate, thinking the spark plug was a turtle and was enjoying being in the water. Little did he know at the time that the “turtle” he found on the roadside was a beloved African spurred turtle that had run away from home.
The spark plug, the type of which is native to the Sahara of North Africa, did not enjoy the water and headed off again, making it even more difficult to find.
Harris and his daughter looked for the spark plug on the man’s land, followed the turtle’s trail through soybean fields, and followed tips from neighbors who said they spotted it.
But her first night of searching was short.
“‘Oh no,'” Harris recalled thinking. “‘We may have lost him.'”
The next day, the man who first found Sparkplug found him, tucked away in a corner of the property that Harris had not yet searched. After 48 hours, he was returned to his family safe and sound.
Part of the family for over a decade
Harris and his family have had a spark plug for about 10 years. It’s the only animal they kept away from their days as a shelter for rescued big cats and other wild animals.
“The spark plug just came along,” said Harris. “He was part of the family.”
Aside from his brief trip out of town, Sparkplug is happy with his backyard house, Harris said. The family dug him a hole where he could wait out the cold and stay away from the southern sun for a while.
But the chain link obviously no longer cut it, so Harris is renovating the spark plug housing to prevent future escape. This time he uses rebar and wooden planks to reinforce his housing.
The spark plug has become a celebrity in Harris’ town. Children and parents stop by to snap a picture, and Harris’ family members who work in the garden throw their extra crops over the spark plug fence so he can feed on pumpkin and watermelon.
“Everyone knows him and takes care of him in some way,” Harris said.
He’s even making offers to turn his story into a children’s book, his owner said. But for the moment Sparkplug is happy in his burrow, back with his family, spending his days eating himself and staying there.