Educator’s African tortoise becomes local celebrity

Luling resident Barry Guillot’s friendly African tortoise Amadeus has become somewhat of a local social media star in recent weeks, spotted by locals as an unusual sight in St. Charles Parish given his large size.

Guillot, a local St. Charles Parish educator who has lived in St. Charles Parish for the last 30 years, first met his soon-to-be pet tortoise Amadeus several years following Hurricane Katrina.

“[A few weeks] after Katrina, [local animal advocates] found this [African] tortoise nearly dead out in New Orleans East,” Guillot said. “He was dehydrated and in really bad shape.”

Having previously worked at the Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans for three years developing education programs, the Harry Hurst science teacher had already developed a background and local reputation for working with animals and animal education.

“I’m not sure who picked him up and worked on him, but they got him in really good shape, and somebody had mentioned I would probably be a good owner for him, because we could use him with education,” Guillot said.

Guillot agreed to take Amadeus in, and his adventures as an African tortoise pet owner began right at that moment.

His pet Amadeus is a sulcata, an African tortoise commonly known as a spur-thighed tortoise due to the big spurs featured on its legs. While these pets are frequently bred and sold in everyday pet stores, innocently presented as small two-inch long pets safely tucked inside an aquarium tank, they can eventually grow as long as 2 to 3 feet, with full-grown males sometimes weighing more than 150 pounds.

“People will buy them saying, ‘they’re so cute,’ not realizing it’s the third largest tortoise in the world,” Guillot explained. “They [can later] get more than they bargained for.”

Unlike most other domesticated pets in the U.S., a sulcata can often outlive its human caretakers, living as along as 100 years or more. Amadeus’ age is currently estimated to be around 27 years old, a fact Guillot, 57, has factored in, already planning for his son in Lafayette to later care for Amadeus once he has lived out his own human life.

Sulcatas are notoriously good escape artists, requiring special fencing enclosures as they get older and larger to keep them from burrowing out. Owners must be constantly be mindful of local weather patterns, particularly prolonged rainy weather which can loosen up soil, later allowing a tortoise to burrow out of an enclosure and escape.

“They are a lot more observant and intelligent than we give them credit for,” Guillot said of tortoises, mentioning a tortoise can observe children entering and exiting through a fence gate, and will often position itself next to the gate, waiting for it to open once again.

Guillot said at one time Amadeus was light enough to regularly take to school for various education projects but has since ‘retired’ him from school duty due to growing too heavy to easily transport.

His African tortoise is a social animal, one that enjoys interactions with humans and other domesticated animals, including Guillot’s two pet Chihuahuas.

“I always say that we have a tortoise that thinks he’s a dog, and wants to be part dog,” Guillot chuckled. “When [my Chihuahuas] go running in the backyard, [Amadeus] runs with them and it looks like he’s chasing them – and he kind of is chasing them – but he just wants to be by them, wherever they go.”


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