MARSTON — “Missing Sulcata Tortoise,” read a flier posted in the Fox Road and Orchard Acres sections of Marston between U.S. 1 North and N.C. 177. His name is Henry, and he had been missing since late Thursday.
Part of the family to owners Jo Ann and Billy Wilson, Henry’s disappearance was a tremendous loss not only to the Wilsons themselves, but also to their Chihuahuas, who they said love Henry “like a brother.” They immediately launched an area-wide campaign to get neighbors and friends involved in finding him.
The Wilsons mentioned Henry Sunday during prayers at church, and their friend and neighbor Lisa England put the precious pet on her church’s prayer list as well.
Their prayers were answered late Tuesday evening when a neighbor called Jo Ann Wilson saying Henry was heading home, walking along the dirt road as if making a beeline for his family’s home.
“God answers prayers,” Jo Ann Wilson said. “I believe everything happens for a reason, and that all of the people who were part of this had something to do with him coming home. All the prayers and all the people looking for him. It’s a miracle. A miracle.”
News that Henry had returned from his five-day odyssey reached the Daily Journal office only hours after an interview with the family originally intended to become a story asking for the public’s help in finding the missing tortoise.
“We’ve taken him to schools,” Jo Ann Wilson said. “Sulcata tortoises aren’t something you see every day. They get really big, and you can tell them apart from the box turtles you see around here.”
“I had just fed him,” Billy Wilson said of that fateful Thursday night. “So I know he was here at least up until then. Then Friday morning I couldn’t find him anywhere. All I can guess is that someone left a gate open and he must have gone out. We had the grandchildren coming in and out of the gate that evening.”
Jo Ann Wilson said all she hoped for has now come to fruition.
“I just wanted him home,” she said. “And we had a little storm come up out here, and here he is home. I guess while he was gone he ate the grasses, the kind he likes. They get most of their water from the food they eat and they don’t swim, so he’s a little bit muddy from where he must have burrowed to cover himself with dirt to stay cool.”
Temperatures Monday and Tuesday topped out in the upper 90s with heat indexes between 105-108 degrees reported in the Marston area, and even though sulcatas are native to the desert climes of north Africa, they adapt with relative ease to where they are raised. It is unlikely that Henry has experienced sustained record-breaking temperatures like this before.
“We gave him a whole stalk of romaine lettuce, and he’s eaten all his food already,” Jo Ann Wilson said. “I’m just so happy he’s home. I’ll be keeping watch on him from now on, you can bet.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.