Missing Turtle Survives in Storage Room for 30 Years

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This story of a red-footed tortoise, like the one pictured here, proves that few pets are as low maintenance as turtles. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).

Pets often perform feats of derring-do and defy death in ways unfathomable to us mundane humans. They save lives, they raise lost human children as their own, they travel halfway across the country by themselves, and they even let people dress them up in funny hats, to name just a few of their extraordinary exploits.

Now we can add another triumph to the list: They can live alone in a box for 30 years — and survive.

Such is the story of Manuela, the red-footed tortoise who was recently discovered sequestered in a small room some 30 years after she went missing. The shelled adventurer disappeared in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1982. Although a lengthy search was undertaken to find the family pet, she was never seen again. Her owners, the Almeida family, figured she had ambled out after builders left the front door open.

But when the patriarch of the family recently died, the children began cleaning out a locked storage room. Along with broken electrical items and other assorted objects that the elder Almeida had collected over the years, the son found Manuela, alive, inside a box along with an old record player.

“I put the box on the pavement for the rubbish men to collect, and a neighbor said, ‘you're not throwing out the turtle as well are you?’ ” the younger Almeida told Brazil's Globo website. “I looked and saw her. At that moment, I turned white, I just couldn't believe what I was seeing.”

Much like snakes, turtles are able to endure lengthy periods of time without food. Turtles in the wild can enter a state of suspended animation by decreasing their body temperatures and other physiological processes.

But 30 years?

Jeferson Peres, a Rio-based veterinarian, told Globo that red-footed tortoises have been known to go without eating for two to three years in the wild. Even so, 30 years is unprecedented. He suggested that Manuela, the turtle with moxie, survived by eating termites and other small insects and licking condensation.

Red-footed tortoises have a life expectancy of around 50 years, which means Manuela may still have a few good decades left with the family ... as long as they can keep the runaway pet in plain sight.