Runaway turtle from Mount Pleasant found on Daniel Island
Fourteen miles in 30 days? To many of us, that may seem like a Lowcountry traffic nightmare, but for a six-year-old turtle on a mission, it’s pretty impressive.
This is the story of a special tortoise named Leo, who escaped the fenced in yard at his Mount Pleasant home in Dunes West on May 23 and somehow found his way to Daniel Island almost a month later! It’s enough to leave just about anyone shell-shocked. Not only is this 15-pound beloved pet determined, he’s also pretty smart. He left his home on World Turtle Day, a day set aside to raise awareness about turtles and tortoises around the globe.
When Jackie Wilson and her family first brought Leo home in 2013, he fit in the palm of their hands. This year, the Wilsons figured he was big enough to start spending time in an enclosed habitat outside.
“So we have a fenced in yard, but then we also have a fence within a fence for his habitat,” said Jackie. “We would leave the door open because he likes to eat grass….so when he was eating grass he found a loose fence board and escaped through there! He had to literally turn sideways to squeeze out!”
And so began Leo’s grand adventure. He stopped in at Charleston Taekwondo, Pinckney Elementary School and Mellow Mushroom Pizza, and visited with people at their homes and on area walking trails. People at various spots would pick him up and take photos with him and share them on social media, not realizing he was a missing family pet. Finally, about a week into his journey, someone posted “Can you identify this turtle?” with a photo of a tortoise with a little boy.
“Of course after the picture there were comments and one of my neighbors saw it and said ‘Hey, wait a minute! My neighbor is missing a turtle named Leo, and he escaped their backyard.’ So it’s like the whole community got involved!”
But each time the Wilsons responded to a sighting in Mount Pleasant, Leo had already moved on. Every couple of days, Jackie would post a new message about Leo, hoping someone had some news about his whereabouts. Then the trail went cold for almost two weeks. Finally – a break came when she heard from a mom dropping off her kids for camp at Bishop England on Daniel Island. The woman had spotted Leo and took a picture of him – and later found out he was missing. Jackie went and looked for him, but he was already gone.
Then, Daniel Island resident Melissa Connolly and her children, Ava and Brooks, were at Center Park when a woman pointed out a turtle she had found and asked if it belonged to them.
“My daughter loves, loves animals, “ said Melissa. “And the next thing I know she was all over him!”
Ava convinced her to bring the turtle home, as they live near a pond. They gave him a feast of carrots and lettuce – and decided to let him spend the night on the back porch, where Ava had set up a little bed for him. But when a storm rolled in, they worried it might be scary for him to stay outside, so he came into the house for the night.
“We just fell in love with this little thing!” said Melissa.
But the next day, Melissa realized it was probably best for Leo to return to the wild, so she asked her husband to drop him off near the pond behind Bishop England. An hour later, while scrolling through Facebook, she saw a post about a missing turtle named Leo and immediately called Jackie at the number provided.
“I said I can’t believe we had your pet and then we let him go!”
Several people looked for Leo around the island, but he was nowhere to be found. Jackie put up posters about him, in hopes someone would spot him and get in touch. Several days later, on June 23, Daniel Island resident Beth Bast and her husband, Charles Wyke-Smith, would save the day. While on a walk, Beth was sharing the story about Leo with Charles, when she spotted the turtle near a shed behind BE. They brought him home and contacted Jackie.
“It was wonderful”” said Jackie, of Beth’s efforts. “She went on mission! She said she was going to find him – and she did. I went over there and I picked him up…and there was no doubt it was him. We were so excited!”
Although Jackie isn’t quite sure how Leo made it from Mount Pleasant to Daniel Island, the experience offered up some good lessons for all.
“It made me realize these guys can make it miles when they want to!” she said. “The thing that surprised me the most is that this tortoise has a personality. Something made people take pictures of him and I think it’s just that he is really comfortable with people and that’s what made people stop.”
After Leo was reunited with his family, they stopped to visit Ava to thank her for taking such good care of him. There is a photo of the two friends – and Jackie is convinced Leo is smiling. It might be that he was especially excited about the tasty strawberry he ate right before the picture was taken – or, perhaps, it was the memory of a summer sojourn he’s in no hurry to forget.