Talk about an atypical missing pet story. Media outlets are reporting that a family in Rio de Janeiro last week found their pet tortoise in a store room in their house – more than 30 years after it went missing.
The red-footed tortoise, named Manuela, disappeared in 1982 and despite a lengthy search could not be found. Her owners, the Almeida family, figured she had crawled off after builders working on the house left the front door open, according to The Telegraph.
But when the family patriarch, Leonel, died earlier this month, the Almeida children began clearing out a second-floor room in the house, an area he had filled with broken electrical items and always kept locked.
Leonel’s son Leandro found Manuela alive inside a box containing an old record player.
“I put the box on the pavement for the rubbish men to collect, and a neighbor said, ‘you’re not throwing out the tortoise as well are you?’” Leandro Almeida told Brazil’s Globo G1 website.
“I looked and saw her,” Leonel added. “At that moment I turned white, I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
“We’re all thrilled to have Manuela back,” said Leonel’s daughter Lenita. “But no one can understand how she managed to survive for 30 years in there, it’s just unbelievable.”
A Rio de Janeiro veterinarian explained that the red-footed tortoise can go for long periods without eating, according to The Telegraph.
“They are particularly resilient and can survive for two to three years without food,” Jeferson Pires said. “In the wild they eat fruit, leaves, dead animals, even feces.”
He said Manuela may have survived by eating termites from the wooden floor.
Lenita Almeida, who had been given the tortoise as a childhood pet, said everything her father thought he could fix he picked up and brought home.
“If he found an old television he thought he might be able to use a part of it to fix another one in the future, so he just kept accumulating things,” she said. “We never dared go inside that room.”
(Above: Manuela the red-footed tortoise, shown amid the detritus of a store room in her owners’ home in Rio de Janeiro, where she apparently spent the past 30-plus years.)