A tortoise that was lost in Hammel Woods was successfully reunited with its Shorewood family after a Forest Preserve Police officer helped solve the missing reptile case.
The incident highlights why people shouldn’t dump creatures of any kind in the forest preserves. Doing so is not only unlawful and violators will be ticketed, but it is bad for the animals and the environment.
The tortoise was found munching on some grass at Hammel Woods – Route 59 Access at around 6 p.m. on September 13. When the tortoise was discovered and reported to police, they began looking for the creature’s owners or a sanctuary or wildlife refuge facility that would take the reptile. Tortoises are not native to Illinois.
“At that time, there was no report of a missing tortoise,” said police Sgt. Dan Olszewski.
Social media connection
Kelly Robertson, a Forest Preserve community service officer, posted information about the found creature on her Facebook page. Around the same time, Laura Egan, the owner of the missing tortoise, posted in a Shorewood moms Facebook group about her lost pet. A friend of Kelly’s saw both posts and connected the two women.
Robertson contacted the Egan family and they had pictures to prove that the tortoise found in Hammel Woods was their missing pet, Gamera, an African sulcate tortoise. Gamera has a mutation, a split scute (a thickened bony plate), on the back of his shell that showed he was the tortoise found at Hammel Woods.
“Robertson was working on her day off to get the tortoise back to its owner,” Olszewski said.
The Egan family had just moved to Shorewood and the tortoise was left in the unfenced backyard to graze on grass when the person watching him lost track of the animal. Egan lives on a 2-acre lot now and she thought Gamera was hiding. She hired college kids to cut away the vegetation and even had a friend come over with his hunting dog to help find the tortoise.
“All of our hands have cuts and bruises from ripping through the weeds and bushes,” she said.
One friend played tortoise mating sounds on her phone in the backyard to help lure Gamera from his hiding place.
But the home is around 4 miles away from Hammel Woods, so it appears that someone found the tortoise in the family’s neighborhood shortly after Gamera disappeared and they released him into Hammel Woods, which is illegal.
“There is just no way that he made it 4 or 5 miles in three hours,” Egan said of Gamera, who weighs around 30-40 pounds.
Animals of any kind should never be released into a preserve and anyone who does so will be ticketed, Olszewski stressed. It is unlawful to put anything into a preserve or take anything out, including plants, creatures, objects etc., according to the Forest Preserve's General Use Ordinance No. 124.
Becky Blankenship, the Forest Preserve’s wildlife biologist, said releasing found or unwanted pets into the wild has numerous negative impacts to the animal itself and to the ecosystem. Many pets are not native to the area and they cannot survive in a new environment, she said.
“An animal raised in captivity has not learned how to forage for food, how to hibernate or migrate, or what predatory cues to avoid, and this makes them less likely to survive after being released,” she explained. “On the other hand, the released animal may thrive in the wild as an invasive species, which can be detrimental to the ecosystem.”
Invasive species can out-compete native species for food or shelter, and may even establish breeding populations, she added.
“It is extremely difficult to remove established invasive species and remedy the damage done on native flora and fauna,” Blankenship said. “Released pets may also carry diseases or parasites that could threaten the health of wild populations.
“For example, if someone doesn’t want their tank of goldfish anymore and dumps it into a pond, those goldfish will continue to eat, grow, and reproduce, leaving fewer resources to sustain the native populations,” Blankenship explained. “This decreases the biodiversity and quality of the pond.”
Egan said she wishes the person who found Gamera had reported it to authorities or had asked around the neighborhood before dumping it in a preserve. The extra effort put in by friends, family and Robertson to bring Gamera home is much appreciated, Egan added.
“She was the one who really took charge and facilitated the whole thing,” Egan said of Robertson. “It was all just a series of very lucky events that led to us being reunited.”
Robertson said she knew the tortoise was not native to the area and that is why she wanted to solve the case.
“I’m just glad he got back to his rightful owners,” she said.
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