Stolen tortoise back at Children's Zoo

2014-06-12T13:35:00Z 2014-12-23T08:53:12Z Stolen tortoise back at Children's ZooBy JONATHAN EDWARDS / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Captain Hook is back home at the Children’s Zoo after being kidnapped and spending 15 months as a pet prisoner.

The red-footed tortoise disappeared in March 2013, but zookeepers didn’t report her stolen or missing because they thought she’d escaped her enclosure and would turn up elsewhere in the zoo, Lincoln Police Sgt. Jeri Roeder said.

Captain Hook, who’s about 25 years old, was wintering inside because red-footed tortoises are from South America and don’t handle March in Nebraska very well, zoo President and CEO John Chapo said.

She earned her name because one of her scoots, the individual pieces that make up her shell, grew in deformed and looked like a hook, he said.

Zookeepers found no evidence that someone broke into the building, and Captain Hook is too big to slip through any sort of crack, Chapo said. And in general, he said, tortoises don't climb very well.

“We thought we would find her and never did. We were quite baffled. Tortoises don’t just apparate.”

But on Wednesday they got an anonymous tip that someone had stolen the tortoise and was keeping her as a pet, Roeder said.

Officers found Captain Hook at the address given, and the woman who lives there told police her then-boyfriend showed up about 3 one morning in March 2013 covered in tortoise poop and gave a tortoise to her daughter.

The girl named her “Buddy,” Roeder said.

Zookeepers ID’d the tortoise as Captain Hook, who’s worth about $400, she said.

Lancaster County prosecutors charged Michael J. Sullivan, 1403 N. 30th St., with misdemeanor theft, and Judge Thomas Fox set his bond at 10 percent of $5,000.

Captain Hook came back a pound lighter, Chapo said. That's about 10 percent of her body weight.

Zookeepers will keep an eye on her health and analyze her droppings to figure out what she’s been eating.

They plan to keep her quarantined for 30 days to make sure she isn’t sick with something she could spread to other animals, Chapo said.

“We’re totally unaware of the conditions under which she lived and totally unaware of her diet." 

In the wild, red-footed tortoises eat fallen fruit, vines, grass, mushrooms, leaves and flowers, according to the zoo’s website. At the zoo, they eat greens, hay, fruit, vegetables and specially formulated tortoise chow.

They can live as long as 50 years.

And they make bad pets, Chapo said. They come from a tropical climate, need certain foods and live long enough that their owners pass through different stages in life and they may not want a pet any more.

“Turtles and tortoises -- they inevitably get passed through so many hands. It’s inhumane.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7395 or jedwards@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSEdwards.

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