Rare Tortoise Puzzling Animal Shelter

Rare Tortoise Puzzling Animal Shelter

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OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- A rare tortoise found "running" loose last week is posing more than one puzzling questions for workers at the Ogden Animal Shelter.

They don't know what to feed it, nor if its even legal to house it in the shelter.

The rare gopher tortoise is an endangered species normally found in Florida and along the Gulf Coast -- but no one thinks it got blown to Utah by Hurricane Katrina.

Shelter director Bob Geier says his staff has been trying to figure out what to do with the dinner-plate sized reptile.

The U.S. Department of Fish and Game was planning a shelter visit to inspect the tortoise and verify it's "gopher" heritage he said.

Shelter staff has surfed the Internet to find out what kind fare the tortoise should be fed. Gopher tortoises normally feed on "gopher apples" and other herbaceous plant. But without those on hand, staff could only coax the tortoise into munching on some carrots.

"...and dandelions, he liked those," office assistant Colleen Simpson said.

Ogden resident Nita Vono would like to adopt the tortoise. A real estate agent by trade, Vono's business card also identifies her as "the Turtle Lady" because she conducts turtle rescues, taking in animals and finding them home.s

Because the species is endangered, Vono says housing a gopher tortoise would require a permit. Whomever had the animal, likely had it illegally, she said.

The gopher tortoise is a subspecies of the desert tortoise, which is native to parts of southern Utah.

Vono said she's already asked officials for a permit application. The tortoise will have plenty of company at Vono's home, which she shares with 40 other turtles and tortoises.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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