Lorenzo, a 180-pound Texas tortoise, reunited with owner after backyard escape

Lorenzo, a 180-pound Texas tortoise, reunited with owner after backyard escape

Saleen Martin

A 180-pound Texas tortoise who broke out of his backyard last month has been reunited with his owner.

Gabriel Fernandez, who owns Lorenzo the tortoise, told USA TODAY on Friday that his beloved reptile made his escape from his backyard in Dallas on Aug. 29.

As days turned to weeks, Fernandez became more and more worried he’d never see Lorenzo again.

Luckily for the duo, they got a happy ending.

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Lorenzo the tortoise’s escape

Lorenzo spends most of his time in his family’s fenced-in backyard, which the 33-year-old Fernandez reinforced when another of his tortoises escaped.

“It was a smaller one and I never found her,” he said. “I redid the fence and everything.”

For a while, the fence improvements seemed to work. But Lorenzo ended up getting out through a hole in the ground.

“They make holes where they like to sleep and tuck themselves in,” Fernandez said. “They’re real strong and real good diggers.”

Fernandez’s backyard is a wooded area so he immediately went looking for the pet, searching the area and a nearby creek for about a week and posting about him on neighborhood apps.

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It seemed like Lorenzo was long gone.

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Where was the escape artist found?

A Dallas-area resident called animal services on Sept. 19 to report finding a tortoise in his backyard, said Jacqueline Sutherland, a wildlife investigator and animal services officer in Dallas.

Once she looked into it and saw a photo of the tortoise, she could tell he was a sulcata tortoise, otherwise known as an African spurred tortoise. 

He wasn’t indigenous to the area, so she concluded that he must have an owner looking for him.

Dallas Animal Services posted about the tortoise on Facebook the same day, hoping someone would claim him.

“There were some people that contacted us about animals that have been missing for over a year,” she said.

Lorenzo saw the post and called in. In order to make sure he was the rightful owner, Fernandez had to describe Lorenzo in detail. He told the agency about scratches on the underside of Lorenzo’s shell and a flattened spot on his shell, likely caused by a previous injury or a vitamin deficiency when he was very young.

It was a match, and Lorenzo and Fernandez reunited on Sept. 21, nearly a month after the tortoise vanished.

Fernandez estimates that Lorenzo made it about a quarter of a mile away from home before he was found.


Tortoise lives with two others, gets along well with family’s other animals

Fernandez said he bought Lorenzo in 2021 from Lauren Lowe, the wife of Jeff Lowe from Netflix’s “Tiger King” documentary.

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He was born around 1997, so he’s about 26 years old, Fernandez said.

Fernandez has always liked animals. He has a spider monkey and two other tortoises: 200-pound Tank and 90-pound Loretta.

Lorenzo is “really friendly,” Fernandez said. He mainly likes to eat in the morning and sometimes bumps heads with the family’s other male tortoise. 

“My spider monkey … she’s always hanging around on him (Lorenzo) and stuff like that,” he said. “He gets along with the other animals.”

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What should I do if I find an exotic animal or wildlife that needs help?

People who find animals in need should reach out to animal services, Sutherland said.

Sharing on social media and hanging posters can help too, she said.

“That’s kind of the biggest thing,” she said. “We want to make sure that people are networking amongst their neighbors and friends … in their local areas to see if anybody knows anybody.”

She also said she wants more people to hold off on making judgments immediately. People typically find animals and assume they’ve been dumped or mistreated. That’s not always the case, though, so they should leave it to animal services to investigate.

“If there is something questionable, then we can do our job as far as investigating welfare, enclosures, that kind of stuff,” she said. “The main focus is always to get the animal back to whoever owns it.”

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