A few months ago, Steven and I sat in front of the house one morning when a small tortoise casually wandered into the yard. It is a bit unusual to see tortoises in the middle of winter. They usually find a cosy little spot and lie low there until the weather warms up again.
But this chappie was clearly on a mission and cruised the whole length of the yard, past the garage and settled down close to the trailer that is parked under our ‘afdak’ next to the garage.
Now only certain people are allowed to have pets in Kruger. And only with special permission. So for us folks without pets, a visit from a tortoise is such a special treat. Especially for Alex and Jack who would lóve to have an animal to call their own. They just want to pet all the animals they see. ‘Kan ek die olifant vryf, mama?’ ‘Can I pet the elephant?’ Jack asked me the other day when an elephant was feeding on the creepers on our fence. And Alex told me that he would love to learn how to ride a zebra, like they ride horses on tv.
Alex and Jack marvelled at the little tortoise. They called him George after their favourite singer George Ezra. (“Home-grown alligator, see you later. Gotta hit the road. Gotta hit the road..”) George the Hingeback tortoise explored more of our garden and then, around mid-day, decided to explore the inside of the garage. There was a cold front on the way and Steven thought that George was probably just looking for some warmth.
The next morning, when it was time to take the boys to school, George was next to the trailer again. ‘Bye, George!’ Alex and Jack waved at the little Hingeback tortoise as we drove out the yard.
Over the next few days, George proved to be a nice distraction and bit of entertainment for Steven, who was recovering from his shoulder operation of the month before.
Steven found the tortoise’s tracks all over the garden and then lost his tracks in the grass close to the ramp into the garage. He could not find any other tracks so he decided to check the garage again. And there was George the Hingeback tortoise, under the lawnmower!
For a tortoise, a lawnmower is not exactly a safe place to be. For obvious reasons. So I brought a box and some newspapers into the garage for George. I placed it in such a way that hopefully, George would hide there from the cold after we extracted him from the lawnmower.
But, George was dead-set on finding his own place. He set himself up among the empty beer bottles in the garage, but he kept knocking them over making the garage sound like a shebeen on a Friday night. Then the next day, when Steven was looking for something in the garage, he heard a strange knocking sound coming from the back of the chest freezer. George had wedged himself between the wall and the freezer and was snuggling up to the warmth of the motor under the freezer.
Extracting George from out of the bottom of the freezer was quite the operation. But we managed to get him out safely and pushed the freezer up against the wall. We didn’t want George to get stuck up in there.
I ended up leaving little boxes and potential hidey-holes for the little hingeback tortoise all over the garage. But, similar to snoopy, my cat in Holland that completely ignored the expensive bed I bought for her and rather slept on a newspaper, George finally found his spot to wait out the winter cold: in the corner under a roll of bubble wrap.
George the Hingeback tortoise has been there for weeks now. Steven and I have been checking on him regularly and leave the garage door slightly ajar for when he decides it is time to go again.
But George had a little surprise for us this morning. Or actually two surprises! We found two little eggs behind him. Or I should say her!
George isn’t a George after all… George is a Georgina!!
Hinge-back tortoises are a protected and endangered species. So Steven and I wanted to see if we could try and help George’s, sorry Georgina’s, two eggs. A bit of nature conservation in our own back yard. She sure chose a silly spot to lay her eggs, in the corner of our garage.
After consulting with a reptile- and tortoise expert and after speaking to the section ranger, we first checked if the eggs were fertilized. Steven carefully put the eggs up against the torchlight of his phone. We aren’t 100% sure, but we think we did see something inside at least one of the two eggs.
We then put the tortoise eggs in a flower pot with river sand. The flower pot is in a place where it gets lots of sunlight, but also some shade in the heat of the day. And we will see if, in a couple of months, we can see Georgina’s babies climb out of the sand. I would love that!!