Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Shoppers caught an usual sight in the parking lots of the local Food Lion and Bi-Lo supermarkets: A giant turtle.
Think a coffee table with legs.
“I’ve had this turtle for 45 years,” said Randy Gallagher of Sunset Beach, NC. “He’s a 60-year old African tortoise. He’s a pet.”
Franklin, one of seven such turtles Gallagher owns, is a 300-pound African Sulcata tortoise. The tortoises are native to the Sahara and while they are protected, and can no longer legally be brought into the U.S. from Africa, people in America breed them and sell them in pet stores.
“People buy them as pets without realizing how big they can get and then turn them loose,” he said. “The people buy them that really can’t have them because they just get too big for most households.”
Gallagher, who was in Moncks Corner over the weekend, travels up and down the east coast showing off his giant turtles. He said he does this as an outreach for children.
“It’s important for the kids to see an animal like Franklin,” he explained. “I let them ride him and he loves it. He’s like a dog, he’ll follow you anywhere. It just takes him a little longer to get there. They’re very docile and friendly.”
Gallagher and Franklin drew a crowd of more than 30 visitors on Friday afternoon at the Food Lion on Hwy. 52. A few visitors even gave him money to help feed Franklin. At 300 pounds he eats a lot.
Gallagher also said he had a little bit of a run-in with the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office earlier in the day because letting the children ride Ben “was stressing the turtle out.”
“The deputy wouldn’t allow the kids to ride on Ben’s shell and he started to get ugly about it,” Gallagher said. “He said it was causing the turtle distress and ‘stressing him out.’ Franklin is like a puppy in a shell.
“He’s a turtle. He doesn’t get stressed out.”
African Sulcata tortoises are the third largest tortoise species in the world, and the largest found in Africa. They can live up to 150 years of age.