Tortoise Goes Sightseeing in Alabama

Adventurous tortoise breaks free and travels 30 miles.

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The ancient proverb about the tortoise and the hare concludes, “slow and steady wins the race.” Fast forward to Sardis City, Alabama, in October 2020. There may not have been a race in this story, but here, one unflinching, determined tortoise became a local hero.

It all started on October 22 when Sparkplug, a 200-pound tortoise, broke out from his fenced-in area. He must have really wanted a change of scene, as it took quite a bit of force to break though the chain-link fence, according to CNN. He made it to freedom and then began a meandering sightseeing trip across Alabama.

When his owner, Ty Harris, came home from work and realized Sparkplug was gone, he posted a photo on Facebook, asking for help. Concerned neighbors shared the post, many commenting they had seen the large tortoise.

One person wrote that they saw it cross a road safely, while another noticed it having its picture taken. Soon the post went viral, with one woman writing, “Hello from southern CA! Your tortoise is viral lol. He’s famous now.”

As the day wore on, the owners began to worry. They were not afraid the tortoise would be harmed – he was wearing his strong “armored” shell – it was the cold that could endanger the tortoise. Sparkplug is an African spurred tortoise, native to the southern Sahara in Africa. As he is used to warm temperatures, the owners were heating Sparkplug’s “home” in the fall and winter. A cold front was moving in and they had no time to lose.

In the meantime, two counties away, a man found Sparkplug, somehow hoisted him into his truck, then drove him to a farm in South Sauty, plonking him in a pond, as reported in The Gadsden Times. He knew turtles liked water, but did not realize he had found a desert tortoise.

Needless to say, Sparkplug was not impressed with the wetlands, so he chose greener, drier pastures and headed off to a nearby soybean field.

As soon as the man who had found Sparkplug saw the Facebook post, he contacted Harris. Yet Sparkplug’s adventure was not over; they followed the trodden tortoise trail through the huge field with no success.

The very next day, Sparkplug was indeed found and returned to his warm, cozy home, complete with a burrow that provides refuge against heat and cold. His enclosure is now firmly fastened with rebar and wood panels, just in case he gets the travel bug again.

When Harris posted on Facebook that Sparkplug had been found after his 48-hour jaunt, people were very excited to hear the good news. Some dropped by to take photos of the famous tortoise, while others were eager to share their harvest of watermelon and gourds with Sparkplug, who had quite the appetite after his odyssey. 

Even at the ripe age of 60, Sparkplug lives up to his name, igniting the fuel to travel 30 miles on short, spindly legs. “He just went out on the town a little bit. He had to take a journey,” Harris told CNN. 

Harris is now receiving calls about writing this adventure in a children’s book. For this is the stuff fables are made of; slow and steady, Sparkplug ventured out, then safely returned home a celebrity.

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