North

Turtle on the loose: NWT SPCA seeks help finding animal that escaped from shelter

The turtle, dubbed Judge Sissons, ran away earlier this month while staff were cleaning out its box.

Shelter president says donor offering $200 reward for turtle, dubbed Judge Sissons

Here's Judge Sissons soaking in the sun on the side of Deh Cho Boulevard in Yellowknife when Dinah Elliott spotted him on Aug. 17. (Submitted by Dinah Elliott)

If you thought turtles were slow, think again. An anonymous donor is shelling-out a $200 reward to whoever returns a runaway turtle — dubbed "Judge Sissons" — to the NWT SPCA in Yellowknife.

That's according to the president of the Yellowknife shelter, Nicole Spencer, who said the donor offered the money to help bolster interest in finding the animal.

The red-eared slider is one of two turtles the SPCA took in this summer, after the pair spent over a decade living at J.H. Sissons School. Shelter staff call the second turtle "One-Eyed Jack" because it only has one eye, according to Leigh Harris-Carlson, the shelter manager.

Judge Sissons escaped from the shelter earlier this month while staff were cleaning its box and letting the turtles enjoy some sunshine outdoors, said Harris-Carlson.

"Apparently Sissons has stronger arms than we thought," she said. "We went to go get them, for bringing them back in when their cage was clean, and he was gone."

Leigh Harris-Carlson holds up the shelter's remaining turtle, 'One-Eyed Jack,' at the shelter in Yellowknife. (Kirsten Fenn/CBC)

Although staff walk around the shelter several times a day with the dogs, Harris-Carlson said they haven't spotted Judge Sissons yet.

They've also been checking for the turtle in surrounding areas any time they hear of a sighting.

On Aug. 17, Dinah Elliott saw the turtle while testing out some new pedals on her bike.

She was cruising down Deh Cho Boulevard when, suddenly, she spotted something ahead, north of the tank farm.

"I unclipped and then slammed on the brakes," said Elliott. "Sure enough, it was a turtle."

Elliott snapped a few photos, watched the turtle start to walk away, and rode off on her bike again.

When she got home, she posted the pictures on the NWT Species Facebook page with what she said was a "semi-sarcastic" comment: "My first nwt turtle!"

That's when she realized the turtle was on the lam from the SPCA. Dozens of people commented on the post, some to tell her the turtle was missing from the shelter.

Someone left this cone and rock on the side of Deh Cho Boulevard in Yellowknife to mark where they'd last seen Judge Sissons, the missing turtle. (Kirsten Fenn/CBC)

Dave Law, founder of the Alberta Turtle and Tortoise Society, said the turtle likely hasn't gone too far.

"When the temperature dips below 15 degrees … it becomes too cold for them," he said, explaining the turtle needs sunshine to keep its body warm, and that it will go into hibernation if it gets too cold.

He estimated the turtle might move around for as little as an hour a day if its temperature gets low.

However, it could still wreak havoc on the local environment. Law said the red-eared slider is one of the most invasive reptile species on the planet.

"The red-eared sliders are ferocious eaters," he said. "They will eat anything, and I mean anything. Like, they'll eat mice, they'll eat birds … anything they can get their face into."

It could also infect predators with salmonella if they eat the turtle, he said.

The N.W.T.'s Department of Environment and Natural Resources said it is not involved in rescuing the turtle.

However, Harris-Carlson said she is hopeful someone will find it.

"We've got a little containment centre and some gloves set up," she said. "If anyone should find the turtle, please call us at the enclosed number, put the turtle safely in the box, let us know. We'll come get it."

She said people should remember to wear gloves if they handle Judge Sissons, and wash their hands after so they don't get sick.

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