Wildwood man searches for his missing exotic pet tortoise
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Babe is on the loose and Wayne Viehweg would like to get him back.
Babe is a 17-year-old, 45-pound pet African spur thigh tortoise that made a daring escape July 17 from his enclosure behind Viehweg's Wildwood home on Big Oaks Road.
The tortoise had been living in a 20-foot by 5-foot area surrounded by chain link fence that includes a doghouse repurposed as a "tortoisehouse."
"He was able to bust through it (the fence)," Viehweg said. "African spur thigh tortoises of his size are extremely strong and persistent. They can push through plywood if they have enough time."
Viehweg said he's heard of some sightings of the tortoise since its escape, but he's been unable to locate Babe.
On July 18, Viehweg said, some children playing soccer had told him they saw Babe at Twin Lakes Park in Wildwood.
A day later Viehweg got a call from a neighbor who said they saw the tortoise on the side of the road near Belvidere Road and Mill Street in Wildwood. Two women apparently stopped, put the tortoise in their car and drove away.
Viehweg said that was the last time he's heard any sighting of Babe. He hasn't found any information about the car or the women who took him.
"My wife has literally been sick because we don't have him back," he said. "I've done very little the past few weeks other than work and sleep and look for the tortoise."
Tortoises like Babe — which can grow to be the largest of any species of mainland tortoise in the world — reside in the southern edges of the Sahara Desert. Viehweg said he found Babe when he and his wife were at a fair 17 years ago and fell in love with him.
When Viehweg's family first got the reptile, it was the size of a silver dollar. His daughter, 2 years old at the time, was the one who decided "Babe" was a good name for a tortoise. Babe is now around 18 inches in diameter.
Anyone with information about Babe can call the Lake County Sheriff's office at (847) 377-4000 and mention Viehwig's name.
Viehweg said those in contact with the exotic pet should understand it is completely harmless, cannot swim, eats only fruits and vegetables and cannot survive temperatures much below 50 degrees.
"I just hope the people who picked him up are animal lovers, know what he is and have some intention of alerting authorities," he said.
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