Cool Creek Park and Nature Center’s Russian tortoise Sputnik is still missing. Cool Creek staff believe he was stolen from his tank the weekend before President’s Day.
Supt. Of Natural Resources Amanda Smith said an employee fed Sputnik on Feb. 15 and saw him in his tank. However, when staff turned off the lights and shut down the nature center that evening, tanks were not checked because it is not standard to do so. On Feb. 16, a staff member put food in the tank but did not see Sputnik. The nature center was closed on President’s Day. Staff realized Sputnik was missing the morning of Feb. 18
Smith said due to the depth of the tank and type of tank lid, there is no way the tortoise could have escaped his enclosure.
Sputnik is 8 inches long and 6 inches wide. He was surrendered by a local family and is estimated to be 10 years old. Russian tortoises can live to be 40 years old. In a post on the Cool Creek Park and Nature Center Facebook platform, the tortoise is described as happy and healthy.
“He is well taken care of by our staff, receiving well-researched and prepared vegetables daily, regular tank cleaning, access to sunlight, proper UV lights, and vet care,” the post reads. “We’d like to ask our community for help in locating and in the return of Sputnik to us. He is missed and we are concerned for his well-being.”
Smith said no animals have been taken from Cool Creek before, but there was some suspicious activity a few years ago.
“We had a situation where a group of people were asking a lot of questions about turtles and where they can buy them, and later we notice they were putting their hands in (the tank),” Smith said. “They claimed they were just trying to pet the turtle, but it definitely seemed suspicious.”
Smith said people sometimes are upset at the idea of animals in captivity, but she said Sputnik is a non-native tortoise and cannot be released into the wild.
“It’s hard for me to imagine what their thought process was, but we have had people come in and been troubled by animals in captivity. They feel sorry for it, but this animal cannot survive on its own in the wild,” Smith said. “They’re not native to Indiana. They would have no idea how to adjust to our climate or what to eat, so he can’t be released. So, if someone had that interest in saving him from something, it’s important to understand that.”
Smith said Sputnik is a program animal comfortable in front of groups.
“Some animals don’t do well in front of groups or they are too shy or nervous, but Sputnik was not one of those tortoises,” Smith said. “We hope they understand he has comfortable accommodations here.”
Smith said Cool Creek Park and Nature Center will consider improving its security.
“We want to make sure we can protect all of them as best as possible,” she said. “If anyone has any details, we are just interested in getting him back.”