Rescuing tortoises from their own tar pits

2014-09-05 00:00

CALVINIA — Getting tar out off a tortoise’s shell is a slow and tortuous process, said conservation officer Nico Laubscher.

Laubscher, who represents the long arm of the Department of Environmental Affairs in centre of the Northern Cape province, said a resident found three tiny angulate tortoises that had become stuck in congealing tar on the road between Nieuwoudtville and Loeriesfontein. The road is being resurfaced. Laubscher said contractors had spilled tar on the side of the road. He speculated the tortoises had walked over the tar while it was still soft and then proceeded to get increasingly stuck as they struggled to get out. The tar entered their shells, effectively trapping the reptiles in their own little tar pits.

To avoid damaging their feet, the caring resident cut the tortoises loose with their sections of sticky tar. Laubscher said he has since spent hours and tried “lots of ways” to get the tar off the little reptiles.

He used a hair dryer to soften the tar on the outside, and succeeded in wiping most of it off with a diesel-soaked rag. He said the tar inside the shells are still encumbering two of the tortoises. He lets them bake in the sun to soften the tar before prising it out strand by sticky strand.

“Meanwhile they enjoy munching the grass and shrubs in their cage,” he said.

Department of Public Works spokesperson Chrystal Robertson was not available to comment on the spilled tar.

The Scarce Website, ( states Angulate tortoises (Chersina angulata) are not regarded as threatened. The tortoises are however protected by the Nature Conservation Ordinance No. 19 of 1974.

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