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Thirty years ago, a family in Rio Janeiro, the Almeidas, concluded that Manuela, their red-footed tortoise, had escaped through a door left open by workers renovating the house. But just this week, Leandro Almeida was more than startled to discover that Manuela was very much alive, having lived for three decades in an upstairs storeroom.
For years and years, Leandro’s father, Leonel Almeida, had been stowing away electronic equipment (some of it broken) and other junk in the second floor of his house. After his death earlier this January, Leandro and his siblings cleaned out their father’s residence.
It was while Leandro was taking out bags of trash that a neighbor asked him if he was throwing out a pet, too. Leandro then discovered Manuela inside a box holding an old record player. “At that moment I was white and did not believe,” he says to Globo.com.
Veterinarian Jeferson Pires explains that Manuela was able to survive for nearly a third of a century surrounded by old televisions because red-footed tortoises like her can survive for long periods (two or three years) without eating. In the wild, the tortoises eat “fruit, leaves, feces, dead animals.”
Red-footed tortoises (Chelonoides carbonaria) are native to northern South America. Adults are about a foot long and can grow to be over 16 inches; Almeidas suspect that Manuela survived by living on termites. Globo.com does not say how long Manuela was after years of a very stringent diet.
It goes without saying that it is remarkable that Manuela survived for all those years, given that red-footed tortoises should ideally have water “at all times and at least every other day” to drink and soak themselves in; without these, they are likely to become dehydrated. A “wet muddy area” is also a plus. In addition, the tortoises also need UVB light to bask in, for vitamin D3 synthesis.
Manuela has now resumed the routines she enjoyed prior to her 30-year stay in the storeroom (which, the Almeidas suspect, someone may have placed her into). The tortoise is back to walking around the garden, eating leaves and getting to know a new generation of Almeidas. In captivity, red-footed tortoises have lived for about 30 years. Here’s to hoping that Manuela, now that’s she been set free after so long, can enjoy her time in the sunshine, with some wet mud never too far away for her to wallow in.