609-Pound Tortoise Moves To The Tulsa Zoo

Tuesday, July 21st 2009, 1:25 pm
By: News On 6

By Emory Bryan, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- A tortoise that outgrew the Wichita zoo made the move to the Tulsa Zoo Tuesday. He'll be here at least five years and the hope is he'll leave some offspring behind.

Rocket didn't exactly get up and go in Wichita; 80-year-old tortoises need some nudging.

But hours later when his trailer arrived in Tulsa, he was eager to get out.

His handlers lifted him out, with cameras surrounding him as he went down to the red carpet -- a welcome suited for Wichita's most popular reptile.

"Rocket is very charismatic. He loves to train and we can bring him out and eat carrots. He likes to move around," said Chris Hutson, Sedgwick County Zoo.

Rocket is likely the largest male aldabra tortoise in North America. He weighs 609 pounds and is still growing.

He's much larger than the five tortoises in Tulsa and to accommodate him, their pen will be expanded. They won't meet Rocket until he has passed a medical exam.

If everything goes well, Rocket will come out of quarantine and be released to meet some of the female tortoises at the Tulsa Zoo. He has never reproduced in captivity, but in Tulsa he'll get his chance.

"So if we can get him in here and get him to breed with our females, it will be a big deal and we're excited about that," said Barry Downer, Tulsa Zoo curator.

Now that Rocket's in a new home, Russ Becker will be one of his keepers.

"The aldabra tortoises are gentle and social, not aggressive, not for food or mating or anything, they're basically like big dogs," said Russ Becker, a zoo keeper.

Chris Hutson took care of Rocket in Wichita and Tuesday said his goodbyes.

"He knows some things. I don't know he knows me as opposed to another keeper, but he's very intelligent, he may, he may," said Chris Hutson, Sedgwick County Zoo.

The Tulsa Zoo claims one of the country's most successful programs for tortoise reproduction. They've had 68 tortoises born there since 2000.

Rocket is 80, but that's middle aged for a tortoise. So, he's fully expected to become a father.