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Originally published Sunday, September 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Tortoise found at Idaho rest stop needs ride to desert

Sadie the desert tortoise, discovered all alone at a rest stop on U.S. 95 in Idaho, needs a ride to a new adoptive home to the Mojave Desert — and the sooner the better.

CUSICK, Pend Oreille County — Sadie the desert tortoise, discovered all alone at a rest stop on U.S. 95 in Idaho, needs a ride to a new adoptive home to the Mojave Desert — and the sooner the better.

The 10-inch reptile has thrived at the Kiwani Wambli wildlife rehabilitation center north of Spokane since July but is unlikely to do so well with the onset of fall, center operator Dotty Cooper says.

Within the past week there was frost on the pumpkins.

"It's just way too cold," Cooper said. "She needs to get there, the sooner the better."

Like humans, desert tortoises mature at 14 to 20 years of age and typically live 60 to 100 years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the species as threatened in 1990, and several states provide additional protection.

Despite unfamiliar terrain and food, Sadie is "the mostly friendly reptile I've ever seen," Cooper said. Sharing a pen with an orphaned fawn, the tortoise even showed the baby deer how to forage and eat greenery from the ground — a process much harder for humans to demonstrate, Cooper said.

Now that the fawn has been released into the wild, nights are colder and the dandelions Sadie has enjoyed eating are more scarce. Cold-blooded desert tortoises aren't made for temperatures below 40, much less for days when the mercury never gets above freezing. To survive a winter in Cusick, Sadie would have to be kept indoors for months.

Complicating the process of getting the tortoise back to her native habitat, she could not legally be released into the desert immediately because of the chance that she might have acquired germs that might wipe out her relatives.

Farther south, in Blythe, Calif., where adopted tortoises are common backyard pets, Wayne Cusick and his wife, Lee Ann, read a newspaper article about Sadie and called Cooper. They said they visit friends at Diamond Lake each summer, have stopped in Cusick out of curiosity about the town's name and would be happy to take Sadie.

"I explained our situation and how maybe it was destiny for this tortoise to wind up with the Cusicks in Blythe, Calif., here in the midst of the Mojave Desert," Cusick said.

Sadie would even get a playmate: Speedy, a younger tortoise half her size.

Still undetermined, though, is how Sadie would get from Cusick to the Cusicks.

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Because of her protected status, UPS won't touch her. Cusick said he could drive four hours to get the tortoise in Los Angeles but not all the way to Washington state.

Cooper and Cusick are hoping a big-hearted snowbird or some other southbound traveler can give Sadie a ride. Cusick said he even considered a tortoise relay for a time.

"I somehow don't think that's going to happen," he said, "but I'm hoping that between word-of-mouth and some notoriety, we'll be able to find someone."

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