One day, a family member spotted a tortoise in a neighboring backyard, which surprised all of us. Large tortoises are not an everyday occurrence in our dense urban neighborhoods, but low and behold, it was true. We’d peeked into the backyard of Kevin Proulx, also known as the Tortoise Guy, who shelters dozens of tortoises, large and small, in his nearby Larchmont Village-area residence. A member of the California Tortoise and Turtle Club, Proulx has been rescuing tortoises for nearly 15 years and is currently caring for 28 animals, from nearly 10 different species, in his back yard.
(In case you were wondering, because we were too, tortoises are the reptile species of the family Testudinidae of the order Testudines (the turtles). The main distinction between the turtles and tortoises is that tortoises are land-dwelling, while many (though not all) other turtle species are at least partly aquatic.)
Proulx, a television editor by day, has become well known in the community as a tortoise rescuer. Neighbor Mary Woodward introduced us to him and we went over to meet Proulx one hot day in September.
Proulx explained that people often get a tortoise and then don’t realize how big they grow, and then no longer want to keep them. He doesn’t take any money for any of the animals and said he would never take a tortoise from the wild. If he gets an endangered species, he works with the state to secure the appropriate permits.
It all started with Max, a hundred pound tortoise, an African Sulcata, the third largest tortoise in the world, he rescued from a restroom in pet store.
“I fell in love with him and that’s how it all got started,” explained Proulx as he showed us how Max loves corn on the cob. “I have a regular job and just do this on the side because I love these animals.”
The tortoises are smart, explained Proulx, and they come when they hear him. He has cameras set up around the yard in case there’s a mishap, like a tortoise gets turned over somehow. (Staying on its back for too long can be fatal for a tortoise.) Fortunately, Proulx has a network of friends and neighbors who help him take care of the animals by bringing him greens from the Farmers Market. Proulx said tortoises love to graze in the grass and will eat basically any kind of fruit or vegetables.
Caring for these animals in the city is big undertaking, almost another full-time job for Proulx. But he’s very passionate about tortoises and has launched a Youtube channel with a full website to educate children and their parents about the dangers these animals face from climate change and loss of habitat. According to Proulx, tortoises are sensitive to warming climate and many are on the brink of extinction. He’s hoping to raise funds to build a sanctuary outside the city where the animals he has rescued, and others, can find a permanent home.
Check it out, you’ll learn a lot about tortoises!