WHO: Diego the South American yellow-footed tortoise.
WHAT: After a harrowing 38 days apart, Diego the tortoise and his #tortdad, former San Marcos mayor Daniel Guerrero, were reunited.
WHY IT’S SO GREAT: In late October, a carefree and surprisingly adventurous Diego escaped his backyard through a weak spot in the fence. The 21-year-old reptile had been part of Guerrero’s family, along with dogs Millie and Winter, for almost two years before he made his escape. An adoptee from Central Texas Tortoise Rescue, Diego instantly made friends in the San Marcos area thanks to his extroverted personality. “He craves attention,” Guerrero says, adding that Diego loves to chase Millie and have his picture taken. “He’s very energetic and playful, so he was a great match with my personality.”
When Guerrero came home from work on October 26, he noticed Diego wasn’t in any of his usual hiding spots. After his parents and brother helped him search for Diego around the neighborhood, they eventually heard from some neighbors that he’d been spotted walking down the street earlier that afternoon, just before a car stopped and picked him up. “My heart sank,” Guerrero says.
He began circulating photos of Diego on social media, recruiting friends, strangers, and sundry fans to help spot him and bring him back home. Because many people aren’t aware of the difference between tortoises and turtles, Guerrero worried that someone would try and put Diego in the water, where he wouldn’t be able to swim. The next day, he got a new lead, but he was dismayed to see it was a video of someone trying to “rescue” Diego by placing him in the San Marcos River.
Guerrero panicked, but his friends at Central Texas Tortoise Rescue reassured him that runaway tortoises are more common than one might think. In fact, the curious reptiles seem to have a penchant for wandering off, with missing tortoises in Buda, Austin, and Longview making headlines just in the past few years after being reunited with their owners.
Guerrero ramped up his rescue efforts and headed to the riverbanks to search for his lost pal. Despite the help of divers, kayakers, and even a search-and-rescue dog, he had no luck. After a few weeks, he decided to wait out Diego’s arrival with the company of a new friend—a second, smaller tortoise he named Chiquito.
Finally, after weeks of worrying, Guerrero got the call he’d spent more than a month hoping for. On December 3, Olympic kayaker Ben Kvanli was alerted to the presence of a slow-moving intruder on his property. Diego had strolled up onto his riverside lawn and was attracting the attention of some stray cats nearby. “Diego’s pretty well-known around here, so I knew it was him,” Kvanli says. “He’s very cuddly and pretty fast. It’s honestly surprising how much he’s like a dog. He’s just the most loving tortoise out there.” Kvanli alerted Guerrero, and the pair quickly reunited and headed back home.
Diego, still full of energy and relatively unscathed from his getaway, has spent the past few weeks getting to know his brother and returning to his favorite pastime of chasing Millie around the house. During an upcoming vet appointment, he’ll be outfitted with a microchip to make sure his next adventure will be a much shorter one.
“It was overwhelming how many people reached out and were willing to help find Diego,” Guerrero says. “I had no idea so many people cared about him. It meant so much.”