Pet owners everywhere would agree: the loss of a pet is a difficult event to process—especially in the case of a missing pet.
Dealing with the ambiguous loss of a pet gone missing is exactly what the Almeida family in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, went through in the 1980s. During a home renovation, their eight-year-old daughter Lenita’s pet tortoise, Manuela, disappeared.
The Almeidas searched the property for the missing red-footed tortoise and even asked their neighbors. Unfortunately, no one in the community had seen a tortoise, so the family assumed that it had escaped through the gate that the builder left open that day.
Decades later, in 2013, the family’s patriarch Leonel de Almeida passed away. Lenita explained that Leonel used to be a bit of a hoarder. “If he found an old television, he thought he could use some part to fix a new one, and so he kept accumulating things,” she said. After his death, the family had to sort through all of the odds and ends he had picked up and collected in the attic. Little did they know, a huge surprise would be waiting to be found there amongst decades worth of clutter.
“I put the garbage bag on the floor, and the neighbor just told me, “Are you going to throw the turtle away, too?” Recalls Leandro de Almeida, Leonel’s son. There, sitting in the box of an old wooden speaker, sat the familiar red-footed turtle. “We were shocked!” Exclaims Nathalye de Almeida, Lenita’s daughter. “My mom arrived crying because she didn’t believe it. They found Manuela!”
It turns out that the tortoise was able to survive for 30 years hidden in the attic! According to professor and veterinarian Jefferson Pires, tortoises are incredibly resilient and can go up to three years without food. Red-footed tortoises are omnivorous, and so the family believes that Manuela was probably eating termite larvae.
In any case, the Almeidas are overjoyed to have Manuela back. It has been almost 10 years since Manuela’s return (and 40 years after she had gone missing). Since then, Manuela has been identified as a male tortoise and goes by Manuel now.
“I brought him in to live with me because I have a lot of affection for him,” says Nathalye. “He’s a part of our family.”