Wednesday, August 17th 2022, 10:11 PM CDT
WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) – Rocket the tortoise was one of the first animals ever at the Sedgwick County Zoo when it opened in the early ’70s, bringing smiles to faces for decades.
But nearly 40 years later, in 2009, the more-than 500-pound tortoise realized how big he was and became an escape artist.
“He actually attained a length that could span the length of the bars. He could get his legs over the edge of this and just walk right down,” said handler Nate Nelson.
Nelson was Rocket’s handler back in 2009. He says when he would escape, it was impossible to lift him back up, so it would take hours to walk him all the way around and back up to his exhibit.
That’s when Nelson made the tough decision to send him off to a better home.
“It was difficult, because he’s always been a zoo favorite here, both for the keepers and the public. But he was just too big for that indoor exhibit any longer,” said Nelson.
Nelson shipped Rocket off to Tulsa. That’s where his new handler, Chris Williams, first met him.
“We had the same problem where he escaped there multiple times,” said Williams.
So, it was off to “max security” for the 90-year-old tortoise – a brand new, state-of-the-art exhibit at the Bronx Zoo.
But finally, more than a decade later, with an escape-proof area to live, Rocket is home.
“We did get to open a new giant tortoise exhibit for Galapagos tortoises. And it’s much more secure here,” said Williams.
Nelson says while he’s pretty sure it’s one-sided, he’s glad he gets to spend every day again with one of his oldest friends.
“I don’t think he recognizes me. But it’s hard to say, you know… They don’t really have any facial features,” said Nelson.
The only catch is that Rocket’s new home does not have an indoor public viewing area. So once the cold weather gets here, you’ll have to wait until it warms back up to see him.