Tortoise rescued in Cambridge garden after 28 days in a drainpipe
Listen to the scratching sound Herman made that alerted couple to his location
A Cambridge couple have told how they found their missing tortoise – Herman – in a drainpipe under their patio, 28 days after he went missing.
The adventurous pet had fallen down a drain and spent 28 days living in an underground pipe before one of his owners heard unusual scratching sounds coming from her garden. Realising it could be the tortoise, she called her partner to come home from work and help dig up the garden in a bid to find the missing him.
Owner Matt Gilbert, 42, from Cambridge, said: “We’d only had Herman for a month when he went missing from the garden and were both so upset to lose him. We assumed he may have slipped out down the street and so went around all our neighbours’ houses asking about him and put messages on Facebook. But there was just no sign of him. We thought someone must have picked him up and taken him home.
“Then Lindsay called me at work to say she had heard some unusual scratching noises in the garden and thought it might be him. I was worried to think he was trapped somewhere so I came straight home and we listened to water soak away next to our shed. The noises were clearly coming from down the drain, so I lifted up the patio slabs and started digging.”
Matt, a self-employed gardener, had to dig more than three feet down and three metres along into the ground, on one of the hottest days of the year. After four hours he was overheated, exhausted and ready to give up.
That’s when his partner Lindsay Ward, 46, an ambulance technician, called in the cavalry from the RSPCA and Inspector Richard Lythgoe arrived to help with the relentless task of digging.
Richard got down in the trench that Matt had dug and was able to spot Herman inside the pipe. But he was at the end of the next section of the metre-long pipe – so it meant even more digging.
Once the pair managed to get to the end of the next section of pipe, Richard reached in to rescue Herman.
Matt said: “It’s a miracle we found him. We had sat in the garden on many occasions that month and heard nothing, so it’s lucky that Lindsay noticed the scratching. When we brought him out he seemed perfectly fine and walked off across the garden.”
A relieved Lindsay said: “I can’t thank Matt enough for digging nearly six hours in the scorching sun, he really is a hero. But when I thought he couldn’t dig anymore I rang the RSPCA for help. Can you imagine trying to explain that your tortoise is stuck down a drain? They were great though and Inspector Lythgoe was with us extremely quickly.
“He looked down the pipe in the trench and could see Herman, but we still couldn’t reach him... he tried to get him out using some of his rescue equipment – but it didn’t work, so the only thing they could do was dig some more, and more and more.”
She explained two-year-old Herman (a Hermann’s tortoise) had been in the garden on July 6 when he vanished. The couple searched everywhere for him, to no avail.
“Herman is now back safe and sound and none the worse for his adventure, I am so grateful to Matt for the effort he made with all the digging and to Richard for all his help. He is now in a secure tortoise pen in his garden so no more escaping for him now!”
Richard said: “I am always called out to some strange animal rescues. I can safely say this is the first time I have been called to rescue a tortoise from a drainpipe. This is definitely one of those rescues I won’t forget in a hurry!”
The RSPCA recommends that owners have their tortoises microchipped by an exotics vet, so that they can be reunited if they are lost and later found.