Wildlife rehabilitators are searching for the owners of an African spurred tortoise, a species usually found in the Sahara desert, that was picked up meandering along Cowichan Lake Road.
The female tortoise was found by passersby last week and taken to the Island Wildlife Natural Care Centre, where she is recovering from her adventure with the help of heatlamps and a heating pad.
"This is a special needs turtle," said Jackie Ballerone, a director at the Salt Spring Island centre. "You can't just stick her any old place."
The tortoise was sent to Ian Lawrie, a veterinarian in Nanaimo who specializes in exotic pets, and he confirmed the species, ensured she was healthy and estimated that she is between 50 and 70 years old.
The lifespan of African spurred tortoises, the third largest species of tortoise in the world, is 50 to 150 years.
But the tortoise is presenting the centre with a quandary as she is not native to Vancouver Island.
"This is not a wild creature we can release. We have got this ancient sweetie until we can find her home," Ballerone said.
"Obviously, someone is missing her. She must have escaped from her home."
It was lucky the tortoise was picked up on the road before she was hit by a vehicle, Ballerone said.
"She has quite a suit of armour, but that would not have protected her," she said.
The tortoise has a thick, multi-shade shell and feet that look like two armadillos sticking out the front, Ballerone said. "She's absolutely beautiful."
The tortoise weighs seven kilograms, according to Chase River Veterinary Hospital, where she was taken for her checkup, but the oldest tortoises in the wild can weigh up to 91 kilograms.
In 2010, the province tightened regulations for keeping exotic pets.
Although African spurred tortoises are not specifically named in the regulations, they are difficult to keep healthy in captivity because of their dietary needs.
In southern Africa, their numbers are shrinking due to poaching and habitat loss. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species does not permit the export of wild-caught spurred tortoises.
The tortoise's owner is asked to call the wildlife centre at 250-537-0777.
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