Giant Tortoise Apprehended 140 Metres From Zoo Two Weeks After Daring Escape

By George Dvorsky on at

A female Aldabra giant tortoise named Abuh who had escaped from a Japanese zoo earlier this month has been found just a few steps away from the facility. Which got us wondering: Just how far could a 55-kilogram tortoise travel in 16 days?

As reported in ChannelNewsAsia, Abuh made her daring escape on 1 August, breaking free from the Shibukawa Animal Park in Okayama prefecture. The zookeepers had been allowing the 55-kilogram tortoise to walk freely through the park during opening hours, a policy shift that Abuh seems to have exploited.

After a failed search to find the missing reptile, the zoo offered a reward of 500,000 yen ( £3,515) to anyone who could find her. This strategy apparently worked as a “sharp-eyed local bounty hunter” located the tortoise in nearby shrubbery a mere 140 metres (460 feet) from the zoo. Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun is reporting a different story, claiming that Abuh was discovered by a family in a forest just 50 metres (165 feet) from the entrance of the zoo on top of a steep slope. After spotting the tortoise, the family from Okayama city went to the zoo to report their discovery.

Regardless of which version is true, it’s clear that Abdu didn’t venture very far from the zoo, most likely because she didn’t really want to, or because she somehow couldn’t. Tortoises may be slow, but given the amount of time Abdu was free, she could have travelled an impressive distance.

The maximum speed for giant tortoises on dry land is about 0.17 miles per hour (.027 km/hr), which means the most she could have travelled in the 16 days, or 384 hours, she was missing is about 65 miles. But that bit of maths assumes she didn’t didn’t stop to sleep at night, or take the time during the day to eat and cool down. So, if we allow for six hours of sleep and about three hours for eating and cooling, that brings her total estimated and potential travel time down to 240 hours. At full travel tilt, that equates to 40 miles (64 km). Not bad. In the real world, experiments have shown that marked tortoises can travel eight miles (13 km) in two to three days. Extrapolating from these figures, a tortoise could conceivably travel 43 miles (69 km), which is pretty close to my back-of-a-napkin estimate.

All that said, Abuh is now back in the hands of her handlers and doing quite well, munching on pears and watermelons as if nothing happened.

“We were so relieved that she came back safely as she is so popular among children,” said zoo staffer Yoshimi Yamane in ChannelNewsAsia. “We will try to take new measures so that this won’t happen again.”

Seems like a good plan. This is apparently Abuh’s second escape attempt in as many months.


[AFP via Channel NewsAsia, The Asahi Shimbun]


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