If only she could speak, she probably would tell about her adventures in the wild and how she survived it all.
Her hissing and grunting can hardly be translated into narrative, but they send a strong indication of her likes and dislikes.
She moves slowly and carefully with determination. She sleeps in the shade.
She eats voraciously and quickly. But she is a vegetarian.
Antonia is an African Sulcado Tortoise, a land turtle.
In fact, she belongs to a species that is the third largest in the world with the Galapagos tortoise and the Aldabra Giant Tortoise found on the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles (northeast of Madagascar) being the largest, respectively.
Her species is the largest of the land turtles, excluding those two species found on islands.
Sulcada Tortoises make great pets because they are so mild mannered, but they do require special care. And that care involves their diet and habitat. Mainly, protein is bad for them.
South Texas is a great place for Antonia because it is along the same latitude as North Africa – between 25 and 30 degrees north latitude with generally the same weather.
The call came one day back in April. Debbie Carter listened to her friend who lives along Copano Bay tell her about the big turtle living underneath her house. She didn’t know what to do and was convinced it belonged to somebody.
Debbie took the turtle on April 10 with the thought of finding its owner. She called City Hall and went to the post office to find out if anybody was missing a turtle.
Assistant City Secretary Lorraine Dyche heard about the turtle and thought it might be Freddie, a female Greek Tortoise she lost a couple of years ago.
“I had one that had gone missing about two years ago. We kept it outside in a kennel,” Lorraine says.
“One morning, like every morning, my Mom went out to feed it and found the cage door open, and the tortoise was gone,” Lorraine says.
She says she thinks a raccoon may have gotten in the kennel and taken the turtle.
“It is still unknown to us what happened to it,” Lorraine adds.
She told her story to Debbie who then sent a photo of the turtle.
“I was sure it was our Freddie. When I drove up to her house, to my surprise, this thing was about 20 pounds or more,” Lorraine says.
“I thought then ‘It can’t be.’ Well, I planned on taking it, and told her I would. While trying to figure out how and where I would keep a tortoise this size, Debbie fell in love with it,” Lorraine says.
Debbie’s house already had a fenced-in yard with lots of plants, giving off shade and providing hiding places.
So the weekend after Mother’s Day, Lorraine bought a Greek Tortoise because she missed Freddie so much.
“Because I love the name Ali and I got her in May, I named her Ali-Mae. She is not a dog, but she is this woman’s best friend,” Lorraine said.
Could Freddie have grown so much over two years?
Well, turns out that after the first years a Sulcado Turtle is born, it grows fast, especially if it eats well. So it is possible the turtle could be Freddie except for one detail. Freddie was a Greek Tortoise.
Debbie explained that after a time, she grew very attached to the African Sulcado.
“I wanted to keep her. I love her. I was already really attached to her. I didn’t think I would be,” she says.
When Debbie’s husband David saw 20-pound Antonia and how gentle she was, he agreed that Debbie could keep her.
And Debbie’s four Chihuahuas and poodle terrier got used to her, and now they look for her.
“They like Antonia. They turn their heads sideways when they see her,” Debbie says.
She says when they sprayed for mosquitoes, Antonia was brought up to the porch.
“She loved it. She was like ‘Dora the Explorer.’ We opened the door, and she just walked into the house,” she says.
But Antonia really likes warm weather. However, she needs shade from the sun because her shell heats up fast.
Debbie says in wintertime, she will set up a place inside with a lamp for Antonia.
And her friend Bill in Dallas has a 50-pound male Sulcada Tortoise. At some point, she is hoping the two tortoises will mate.
Males can reach 200 pounds, and African Sulcados can live up to 70 years or more.
More and more plants are being planted for Antonia to hide in case of predators.
“Raccoons are the animals to watch out for. They are the biggest predator. And then there are foxes, but they would have a heck of a time to drag her,” Debbie says.
Antonia gets fed well. Her favorite is corn on the cob.
“When she eats corn on the cob, it looks like makeup on her face,” Debbie says.
Antonia also eats tomatoes.
“She loves them, and she looks like Rudolph,” when she finishes.
Antonia also eats bananas, slices of apples and grapes, turnip greens and purple cabbage. Some of these items are given to her on a limited basis because she is not to have too much protein.
“(African Sulcados) are much more human than I thought,” Debbie says.
Every day, a plate of food is set out by the bushes, and Antonia comes out from hiding, feasts and heads back to the bushes.
Debbie pets Antonia on the head while she eats. At first, Antonia would hiss, but now, Antonia loves it.
“And I love her,” Debbie says.