Written by Michael Claxton
I’m sorry to start the semester off with bad news, but Princess Toadstool has left the building. I’m not talking about the Mario franchise character, who, so I understand, is still reigning supremely in the Mushroom Kingdom. I’m talking about her namesake, the Sulcata tortoise that once roamed the aisles of the Neighborhood Pet Shoppe in Searcy. Along with her fellow turtle Bulbasaur — named after a Pokémon — Princess T held court at our newest pet emporium in town, happily entertaining the masses until a customer snapped her up.
I must confess that, until recently, most of my turtle knowledge came from fiction. Aesop taught us about the tortoise and the hare. Lewis Carroll gave us the Mock Turtle in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” I grew up on characters like Dr. Seuss’s Yertle, and Hanna-Barbara’s Touché Turtle (pronounced too-shay), and later, on the Teenage Mutant Ninjas. I was technically past my childhood when Squirt from “Finding Nemo” and Oogway from “Kung Fu Panda” came along, but I was happy to see them join the pantheon of loveable hard-backed reptiles in pop culture.
The Sulcata — so I learned — is native to Sub-Saharan Africa and is the largest mainland tortoise species. These endangered creatures are herbivores but have been known to munch on a zebra carcass if the local hay and alfalfa shoot supply runs dry. The Sulcata starts small but doubles in size every year and can reach over 100 pounds. Impressively, they can live 75 years or more.
They are popular as pets, but their lifespan can pose a problem for owners. There’s no way to put this gently: They might outlive you. If that is an issue, I would suggest starting with a guppy, at least until you get used to the idea that a turtle could end up as executor of your estate. But that’s not the only reason you may not swing a Sulcata for your backyard.
They are expensive. Babies go for $200. Princess was 4 years old and brought a whopping $3,500, according to my inside source at the Neighborhood Pet Shoppe. By contrast, I noticed when I visited the store recently that hedgehogs were on sale for $179.99.
Bulbasaur is still roaming the Pet Shoppe and has no plans to leave. At age 6, he has an estimated value of $5,000, but he is a permanent store pet. Customers are encouraged to say hello but not to pick him up or pet him on the face. “You’ll get headbutted,” Trevor Koonce, floor manager, said. Trevor also recommends that customers not wear green shoes around Bulbasaur. “He’ll eat them.”
Locals are dying to know if there was a romance budding between Bulbasaur and his female companion before she left. I’m told he was interested, but Princess Toadstool was not. She often had to be rescued by the sales rep from Bulbasaur’s advances. Slow as he might have been, a turtle in love pursues his lady with steady purpose. I feel sorry for the guy — imagine you are thousands of miles from home, and the only other Sulcata tortoise in town just wants to be friends.
There are signs the old chap may be lonely. “We lost him last night,” Trevor reported last Friday. “It took 30 minutes to find him hiding under a desk in the office.” Do we really blame Bulbasaur, though? I suppose if I lived on alfalfa shoots and had watched my beloved rung up at the cash register, I might hide under the furniture, too.
Then again, Bulbasaur should count his blessings. Living to a ripe old age is rare at the Pet Shoppe. Even if the Social Security trust fund will run out in 2037, the tortoise has it made compared to others. Take the feeder mice, for example. If your species name is “feeder mouse,” that pretty much tells you how many punches you have on your dance card. Trevor tells me that new shipments of these mice arrive at the store all the time and sell out immediately. Who buys feeder mice? People who own pythons.
Guppies may have just as short a lifespan, but at least when their number is called, they will only end up floating at the top of the tank. Not slowly being digested by the Sarlacc.
The Neighborhood Pet Shoppe has become a popular location in Searcy since it opened in February. Their selection and services must be seen to be believed. If you are new in town, and especially if you’re fond of animals, I suggest taking a stroll through the aisles. Just don’t wear green shoes or get too close to the pythons.
For a run-down of this amazing store’s inventory, check out the next installment of “Just the Clax,” now in its 18th year in The Bison.