UPDATE, 10-17-19, 10:45 a.m.: Great news! Kevin Goulart tells Texas Monthly that Mr. Mabel is safely home after being found by a neighbor six miles away. “A passerby contacted a friend of mine on Facebook and left him at the closest house,” Goulart says. The tortoise was kept safely enclosed in the bed of a pickup truck until the family was able to get over there to retrieve him, and they’re now happily reunited.
PREVIOUSLY: If you’re looking for a pet you can have in your life for a long, long time, an African sulcata tortoise is a good bet. The magnificent beasts can weigh more than 200 pounds, their shells grow to nearly three feet across, and they live as many as seven decades.
Kevin and Amy Goulart have raised their tortoise pal, Mr. Mabel, for ten years, according to the Wichita Falls Times Record News—but he went missing last weekend, and they’ve since peppered the North Texas and Southern Oklahoma areas with flyers as they seek to reunite with the big fella.
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How does a giant tortoise go missing? Goulart says that Mr. Mabel lives in a massive enclosure—he estimates that it’s about 50 by 60 feet—and that, on Saturday, after his wife had fed Mr. Mabel and brought him water, the tortoise found a way to bust out of his home, which is built with chain link and sheet metal, backed up by wood. “As [tortoises] get bigger, they get stronger, and he found a weak spot in the enclosure,” Goulart says. “He bulldozed his way out and pushed his way through.”
Mr. Mabel had been living a good life. In addition to offering the space to roam, his enclosure is heated—in the winter, the Goularts set the thermostat to 70 degrees, and they bring him inside the house when it’s especially cold. The covered portion of the enclosure has a door with a tortoise-size flap that leads to an outdoor area so Mr. Mabel can soak up the sun on warm days. People who’ve seen him walking around the space have been surprised by how fast he is. “If he’s motivated, he can get a pretty good speed to him,” Goulart says. “He walks fast—most people who see him walking are like, ‘Oh, I thought tortoises were slow.'”
That land speed can make it tough to know where he’s gotten off to now. It’s been a week, and while there have been a few tortoise sightings—Goulart told the paper that people reported spotting Mr. Mabel northwest of the family’s home of Dean, and along U.S. 287—it’s been quiet in the past couple of days. “If they want to stay in a certain area, they’ll stay,” Goulart says, “But I’ve read stories where they go 25 to 30 miles a day.”
Mr. Mabel, at ten years old, is still growing. Right now, he weighs about 90 pounds and his shell stretches nearly two feet across, so someone finding him might be able to pick him up if they’re lifting with their knees.
He’s not aggressive. He’s been around people his whole life,” Goulart says on the phone. “If anybody spots him, they can call the game warden, or maybe law enforcement—or you can just advertise this number. I’m not worried about people getting it.” So if you see a giant tortoise waddling around North Texas, Southern Oklahoma, or even farther afield, depending how far the big fella has gotten, feel free to let Goulart know at 940-215-4893.