San Marcos mayor reunites woman with 20-year-old, 40-pound pet tortoise

A 20-year-old tortoise named Leonard was reunited Nov. 20 with his owner in Buda following a three-month stay with San Marcos Mayor Daniel Guerrero.

Leonard, a 40-pound African sulcata tortoise, was found wandering alone in Buda in August after disappearing from Donna Grundy's backyard.

Animal control officers brought Leonard to the San Marcos Nature Center, but Guerrero adopted him after just a few days at the facility because Leonard didn't get along with the other "throwaway" male turtles at the center, according to Jenna Winters, the Nature Center program coordinator.

"Tortoises are not aggressive [toward humans], but they are aggressive to other tortoises," Winters said. "They were spending pretty much all their time fighting through the fence."

In the meantime, Grundy was putting up fliers, posting newspaper ads and going door to door in search of her pet. She had raised the tortoise since he was a hatchling the size of a tennis ball and had named him John Wayne.

Grundy's friend, Cyndy Slovak Barton, contacted San Marcos City Hall and sent a picture of John Wayne. When Guerrero saw the picture, he confirmed that his new pet was, in fact, the turtle in question.

Guerrero met Grundy on Nov. 20 at City Hall to return Leonard, aka John Wayne, to his rightful owner.

African sulcatas can live well past 100 years and can weigh more than 100 pounds, according to Winters, a biologist. The turtles make great pets, she added.

"They're very doglike in their attitudes," Winters said. "It's more of a food motivation thing. They will come up to you, not so much because they're interested in you, but because they're interested to see if you have food. They're terrible beggars."

But turtles are not for everyone. Winters said they require large outdoor space and their own house with a heating pad, along with one other major consideration.

"People need to understand they are making a beyond-lifelong commitment, because probably the tortoise will outlive the human," Winters said. "At the Nature Center, I'm hoping to set up a trust for their care because they will probably outlive me."