By Alex Matthews and Laura Dale
A pair of turtles who were separated for two years after making a daring dash for freedom have finally been reunited.
The two European pond terrapins scaled a 6ft-fence to escape from their enclosure at a wildlife centre and staff thought they’d never see them again.
One of the reptiles was quickly found and returned home but the other evaded capture and, eventually, the centre’s workers gave up all hope of finding her.
But almost two years after she disappeared, a member of the public strolled into the shelter to hand over a terrapin she’d found crawling along a main road.
Despite having a lover’s tiff and ignoring each other at their reunion, the pair are now happily living side by side again.
Dave Risley, director of The Folly Wildlife Rescue Trust, in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, said: “They had managed to escape from the pen they were being kept in by climbing over a 6ft high fence!
“The male was soon recaptured but, despite an exhaustive search, the female had disappeared and we eventually gave up all hope of every seeing her again.”
The pair had arrived at the centre in 2015 having been left to the charity in a will.
When the previous owner of 25 years, an artist, died, the male and female terrapins found their new home at the charity’s wildlife hospital in Broadwater Forest.
A few months later, workers arrived at the shelter one morning and were shocked to find the pair missing from their enclosure.
Staff and volunteers scoured the area and found the male terrapin, but his mate was nowhere to be seen.
Dave said: “Someone once asked me whether terrapins could climb and I explained that they can clamber up and over obstacles – but we never imagined they’d be able to scale a fence so high.
“When we put the male back in the enclosure he promptly shimmied up the fence again.”
Almost two years had passed when, on 26 August, a European Pond Terrapin was brought into the hospital by a member of the public who found her wandering along a busy road over one mile away.
Dave said: “She has a very distinctive mark on her carapace so, apart from the fact that there can’t be that many European Pond Terrapins in the vicinity, we knew it was our missing female.
“On putting her back in the enclosure with the male I was hoping there would be a big reunion and they’d scuttle into each other’s flippers after nearly two years apart.
“In fact they just completely ignored each other. It wasn’t the most romantic of reunions. He just looked at her and walked off in the opposite direction with total disinterest – and they call it turtle love!
“He either has a very short memory or hasn’t forgiven her for straying.”
But Dave and his family were thrilled to have the missing terrapin back where she belongs.
He said: “As for what she was doing all that time it’s difficult to know but she’s in very good condition and would have coped well, I think.
“This species is very terrestrial and, as long as she had access to some water such as ditches and streams, she’d have been fine.
“They normally eat all sorts of invertebrates such as slugs, worms and snails – and there are plenty of those about!”
Staff couldn’t believe the little turtle had found her way home after all that time.
Writing on the shelter’s Facebook page, they said: “On Saturday morning this little girl was handed over to our receptionist at Folly. She was spotted taking herself for a little stroll along the A26, just a couple of miles down the road from us.
“Amazingly, it turns out that this little wanderer escaped from an enclosure in our own director’s back garden over a year ago!
“Apparently appalled at suddenly have to share their pad with a new arrival this little girl and her mate both scaled a vertical fence in a bid to seek out alternative accommodation. The male was quickly caught but the female was nowhere to be seen… until now!
“None of us could believe it. It just goes to show that life is full of surprises. I’ll never be able to look at them again without hearing the theme to The Great Escape!”
The terrapins are now happy to be back together in their enclosure and staff will be keeping a close eye on them to ensure they don’t do another disappearing act!
To support The Folly Wildlife Rescue Trust visit the website: http://www.follywildliferescue.org.uk/