Sulcata Knows Nose! 2003


Sulcata Knows Nose!

Katrina Sutherland of Barreleye Zoology asked me if l knew about tortoises? This story is as short as my overall knowledge on this species however … a painful memory!

When l ran my business, l made a vow to not handle certain families; of these were fish, birds and reptiles. I didn’t feel that l had the right knowledge or to a certain degree passion for some of these species. However, this didn’t mean that l didn’t come into contact with them; it just meant that there were other people who were better equipped and more enthusiastically motivated by these groups than myself.

Over some twenty years, l handled species that l couldn’t avoid with my business; l came into contact with many exotic keepers and many collections of assorted species.  But equally l worked alongside zoos, game parks and animal refuges. It was in the latter that l met some exciting species also, and equally met certain species, that didn’t like me.

One of the species that l met who didn’t particularly take to me was a Sulcata Tortoise also known as the African Spurred Tortoise or to those of you who adore the Latin Centrochelys sulcata.

To the unlearned this is a species that is supposed to have a fairly pleasant temperament – “fairly and pleasant” are not two words l would marry alongside each other with regards the experience of this rescued tortoise however.

I used to volunteer at a rescue centre in Lincolnshire, and for the better part it was fun, on the not so nice times – it was not. Being crapped on by Egyptian Bats is not so much fun, but being in the bat house was. Being chased around by an alligator was not fun, but looking at him, was – you get the jist l am sure. But that is working with animals, for the better part you are going to have fun and by this l mean around 90 – 95% was fun, the remaining 5 – 10% not so much.

The Sulcata sat in the 10% range that day of not so much fun! You see, he needed feeding and l volunteered, despite being told that he could be – could be – sometimes somewhat temperamental!


“Sure!” l said, no problem, “Relatively sluggish creatures aren’t they?”

So off l went to feed the tortoise, armed with a bowl of vegetable matter, armed with the instruction to hand feed around a third of it. What could be the problem with that? I got to his enclosure, let myself in, couldn’t see Sulky anywhere, so there was a big flat rock that l sat on and tried calling him out. I tried cooing and softly whistling and to no avail. I put the bowl down, got on my hands and knees and face down in the dirt and started looking for possible locations. His enclosure was large, lots of foliage, cubby holes, and all sorts of things.

I never saw him coming till he hit me square in the face, and he bit me between the nostrils you know the soft bit, the delicate bit – that’s where he got me. At first l didn’t know he had bitten me, l figured he saw me as some kind of predatory enemy or something. I just thought he had rammed me; it was only when l tried to get up, that l realised that he was attached and that’s when the pain hit.

Oh and it was excruciating, if that wasn’t enough, the more l tugged the more l realised he was tearing the flesh and l started to bleed. Over the years l have been bitten on the nose by several species, such as dogs, cats, ferrets, coatimundis and rats, but never by a tortoise!

Sulky the Sulcata, wasn’t small, he wasn’t an elephant but he wasn’t a baby either, he was a relatively old tortoise that had been rescued from a hoarder. So he wasn’t particularly social.

Have you ever tried reasoning logic with a tortoise on the end of your nose? It doesn’t work, they don’t get it! I couldn’t call anyone because all l was making was strange gargling sounds, l couldn’t lift myself up because l would have ripped my skin further and just been left with one giant gaping nostril. So l had to try and get him something else to bite into. So l started to scrabble my hands around for the bowl of food stuffs l brought in, found it and grabbed a handful of it and thrust it into my face, then and only then, did Sulky let go!!

Well l tell you, l was out of there like a cannon ball out of a canon! Got back to the owner and said that l had been mullered by their damn tortoise! I was losing blood and unhappy! They then quoted back at me “What’s the problem; they are only relatively sluggish creatures aren’t they?” And then rolled about the floor laughing! Laughing!!!

It took me probably close to a month, to get the swelling down from my new bulbous looking nose and about a month extra to start talking properly without sounding like some nasal freak!

I don’t know a lot about tortoises , but l do know this – they sure as hell are not so sluggish and they can bite hard!!


Anyway, thanks for reading!

Images courtesy of Pixabay

12 thoughts on “Sulcata Knows Nose! 2003

  1. My goodness. Thanks for the warning. I’d thought tortoises were fairly innocuous compared to some other African species with whom I’m now acquainted having moved from the UK to South Africa a few years ago; dangerous snakes and spiders for example. And now I must worry about the humble tortoise…

  2. What a beastly thing to have done. Are you sure you didn’t do anything to earn it’s vengeance?

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