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The strange case of the missing tortoise

Tortoises typically disappear into their shells. But at the Ashland Pet Store on Monday a rare red-footed tortoise disappeared right out of the store.

Owners Ron Greene and his wife Julie Klein think they know what may have happened to the tortoise, and they are offering a $200 reward &

"no questions asked" &

for the safe return of the shelled reptile.

A woman who said she was from Jacksonville was inquiring about the tortoise just moments before its disappearance, Greene said.

The woman told Klein she would like to own it but couldn't afford to buy it. Klein left the woman and the tortoise to go to the back of the store and when she returned they were both gone.

"The woman grabbed it," Greene said. "I saw her put something in her pocket."

Greene described the woman as being in her early 20s, about 5'4", "very thin" with "almost black" dark hair.

"It's absolutely horrendous," Greene said. "It took us eight months to get them."

He said red-footed tortoises, native to South America and the Amazon, are an endangered species. Their tortoise was bred in captivity in Florida.

"We're trying to strike out against the wold turtle trade," Greene said, noting that at the pet store on Ashland Street they raise some snakes in reptiles in captivity to try to off-set the market for animals stolen from the wild. "I'd rather not sell endangered species taken from the wild."

Greene and Klein are worried about their tortoise because, being just a baby, it requires special care. Red-footed tortoises require full-spectrum, ultra-violet light during the day and a cage temperature of 95 degrees during the day and no less than 75 degrees at night. They need to be fed several times a day.

Greene said tortoises and turtles are different species in the reptile family. Turtles, he said, are aquatic or semi-aquaitic animals, while tortoises are "land turtles."

Being a rarity in a pet store, the tortoise is valued at $200. Ashland Pet Store is willing to post that amount as a reward because they are concerned the tortoise, which was still too young to sex, will not survive without special care and attention.

"They are beautiful," Greene said. "We just want it back."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x. 226 or .