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Old 08-04-2007, 08:31 AM   #1
Clay Davenport
Rare tortoise believed to be stolen

CAMDEN COUNTY - A rare, Geochelone Sulcata tortoise named Sherman has been kidnapped, according to owner Andrew Shellabarger. Missing from his backyard near Ha Ha Tonka State Park last week, the 85-pound, 3-foot-plus long tortoise didn't just walk away, Shellabarger believes.

'I can't believe somebody would do this. He's extremely rare,' he said.

Shellabarger said he's been in contact with the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio talking about breeding Sherman. Due to the rarity of this particular species, the third largest tortoise in the world, most of the ones in zoos are inbred, which contributes to a high death rate for new babies, Shellabarger said.

'They were so excited. Sherman's never been bred before so it would have been new genes in the pool,' he said. 'Over the years, it has just gotten so messed up because they have to keep using the same tortoises to breed. To have a new tortoise would have really helped.'

Shellabarger said Sherman's previous owner just recently died at 92 years old and the family had no idea how old the tortoise was. Shellabarger is guessing Sherman is somewhere between 60 and 70 years old.

The African spur-thighed tortoise was going to serve as more than just a way to supplement the gene pool. Physically disabled, Shellabarger thought of the tortoise as more therapeutic.

'He was my friend. He was so friendly, you could sit there and pet him and he would just go to sleep,' he said.

The afternoon of the disappearance, Shellabarger checked on Sherman and then started watching a movie. Approximately 20 minutes later, he said he checked on him again and he was missing.

'He was just gone. I can't even fathom it,' he said. 'Who would do this? I'm not even concerned about who would do this, I just want him back, to know he's OK.'

Shellabarger said Sherman requires a special diet of vegetables and certain temperature conditions to remain healthy. His concern is whoever took him isn't following those directions and could make him sick.

'I thought I was going to have him the rest of my life and now I don't even know if I'll see him again,' Shellabarger said.

Sherman does have several distinct features. He's pale yellow, almost sand colored with several darker markings on his shell.

Shellabarger said there was a red mark on the back of his shell, from his previous owner, but that it may have been scratched off or removed. The left side of his mouth is also considerably more worn away because he always eats on that side, Shellabarger said.

'He stands out. Not everybody walking around has such a large tortoise,' he said. 'He's going to get noticed. I just want some help to bring him back home. I could pick him out of a thousand other tortoises.'

Shellabarger is offering a substantial reward for the safe return of Sherman. If you have any information concerning Sherman, call the Camden County Sheriff's Department at 346-2243.

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