Turtles and tortoises take over Atascadero City Hall

When an out of control fire threatens hundreds of rare and endangered turtles and tortoises, what should their keepers do? Transport the prized reptiles to the Atascadero City Hall of course.

When the Thomas Fire threatened the Turtle Conservancy facility in Ojai, hundreds of rare and endangered specimens had to be quickly evacuated to avoid a catastrophe. The reptiles include ploughshare tortoises, baby snake-necked turtles, radiated tortoises, golden coin turtles and a nearly 400 pound Galapagos tortoise, which took five strong men to load up.

A caravan of fully loaded trucks headed northbound on 101 to Atascadero, and the unusual guests were unloaded safely at city hall.

The conservancy was able to evacuate the bulk of the animals from the sanctuary, including the most endangered species, but a few remained in ponds that they couldn’t get to in time. Several conservancy employees stayed with the turtles against evacuation orders in hopes of protecting them.

Why Atascadero? The Charles Paddock Zoo is well known as being committed to conservation and in aiding in the long-term research and propagation of turtle and tortoise species through the zoo’s turtle lab, designed specifically for that purpose in the hopes of helping save these animals from extinction.

But the zoo did not have enough heated spaces to temporarily house the reptiles, so the turtles and tortoises were transported to city hall.

As soon as the imminent fire danger near the conservancy facility has passed and the mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted, the city’s unusual guests will be loaded back onto trucks to make the trek home again.