Highlands, New Jersey – Neighbors in the area of Grand Tour Street had been hearing “moaning” and “crying” sounds this past summer and described the noises as if an animal were in pain or possibly suffering. When they called authorities to check on the fervent cries, police found a 600 pound pet tortoise and three other smaller tortoises ranging in weight from 50 pounds to 125 pounds in the back patio of a duplex.
According to Victor “Buddy” Amato, the chief humane law enforcement officer for the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the reptiles were malnourished with holes in their shells which had been repaired with fiberglass, and were living in improper shelters.
Aldabra tortoises are desert tortoises and can not live in temperatures below 65 degrees. Native to Aldabra Atoll in the southeast African archipelago nation of Seychelles, the species are the second largest tortoises. Their lifespan ranges from 100 to 200 years. The famous Galapagos tortoises are the largest and live in marshy grasses.
Rich Hines Jr. was charged with eight counts of animal cruelty for failure to provide sustenance and failure to provide veterinarian care. The Division of Fish and Wildlife charged Hines with the possession of exotic species without a permit.
The Aldabra tortoises were living in a make-shift muddy pen approximately 10X15 and could only move five-feet in either direction.
On August 25, after the Monmouth County SPCA forwarded the tortoise complaint to the state Department of Environmental Protection, an officer inspected Hines’ property and the tortoises, instructing the owner to get the reptiles to a veterinarian and clean up their living conditions. When he returned a week later, conditions had not improved, and the tortoises were seized.
The largest tortoise, named Big Blackjack was lured onto a horse trailer with a piece of cactus and all were transported to the Popcorn Zoo in Lacey Township where they will be checked by a veterinarian.The tortoises will be fostered at the zoo until a permanent home can be found.
Christina Hines said her husband has owned Big Blackjack and the others for 15 years and purchased them from a California breeder and kept them at their home in North Carolina before moving to Highlands, New Jersey in June. Contrary to what the authorities state, Christina contends the tortoises love wading in the mud and water. The couple planned to keep the tortoises in the garage during the cold New Jersey winter.
And as to the “groaning” and “cries” of the tortoises that drew the attention of neighbors to call the authorities – both the owners and the experts agree that the tortoises’ vocalizations were mating calls.