By Tom Ferrall
Staff Writer 

Tortoise 'Humpty Dumpty' recovering from Fallbrook fall


Last updated 5/5/2018 at 4:35pm

Photos courtesy of San Diego County Animal Services

Humpty Dumpty, with his repaired shell, is shown April 27, 12 days after his fall in Fallbrook.

The 90-pound tortoise that was severely injured when he took a fall in Fallbrook April 15 is recovering nicely, according to Dan DeSousa, director of the Department of Animal Services for the County of San Diego.

"He's actually doing very well," said DeSousa of the African spurred tortoise who – when apparently pursued by a dog – fell off a 10-foot wall in the 2200 block of Aqua Hill Road and landed on his back, breaking his shell in three places. "He's moving around and eating.

"Obviously, for the first couple days it was a little hit and miss with him," continued DeSousa. "He wasn't eating, he wasn't moving around. But if I were to fall 10 feet and land on my back I don't think I'd be moving around too much either."

The tortoise, named Humpty Dumpty by staff at the county's central shelter in San Diego, underwent surgery at a specialty hospital in La Mesa.

"The gentleman that we use is our reptile vet – that's what he specializes in," said DeSousa. "So when this tortoise came in we knew right away it has to go to this veterinarian because he's the expert."

The surgery, in which the veterinarian put the broken shell back together using screws, zip ties, epoxy and plastic wrap, lasted two hours.

"The screws and zip ties that he has, he'll be wearing those for about a year because anything a tortoise does is slow," said DeSousa. "So, that shell will eventually heal back together but it will take probably about a year to get that done."

The surgery cost $4,000, which apparently was a little too rich for the tortoise's owner.

"We had someone reach out to us and say, 'I think that's my tortoise,' and when our veterinarian contacted them back saying, 'here's what the surgery has cost, here's the extended care that this tortoise is going to need,' their response was, 'oh, maybe that's not my turtle – I'll keeping looking for my turtle,'" said DeSousa.

Animal services used money from the Spirit Fund to pay for Humpty's surgery. The Spirit Fund was created in July 2008 after a puppy was found severely beaten near the border. The dog still had a loving nature despite her injuries and county staff named her Spirit. The puppy's story prompted donations from across the country, so much money that the Spirit Fund was set up to care for other animals with severe medical needs. The fund has continued to grow through the years and anyone interested in donating can do so at

"The Spirit Fund is a God send to us," said DeSousa, explaining that the fund has helped a variety of animals, including a duck.

"We actually had a Muscovy Duck that came from Chollas Lake in the city of San Diego that somebody shot with eight arrows," said DeSousa. "The duck survived. We sent that duck to a bird specialist and they were able to safely remove all the arrows. There was one actually right down below the duck's eye – and they got that one removed and the duck didn't lose its vision. We use the Spirit Fund for those kind of situations, where it's something that we can't provide in the shelter. That duck went to a sanctuary in Alpine."

DeSousa said he didn't hesitate to authorize that money from the Spirit Fund be used to help Humpty.

"I was like sure, not a problem, let's give him a chance," said DeSousa. "Someone said why spend the money on a tortoise. I said, 'it's an animal just like a dog, just like a cat, just like a duck, it deserves a chance.'"

DeSousa said Humpty, who is between 35 to 40 years old, is one tough tortoise.

"I've worked for the county for just over 29 years and this is the most severe injuries I've seen in a tortoise that survived," said DeSousa. "We've seen turtles and tortoises get hit by cars and not make it."

The news of Humpty's fall and his put-it-back-together-again shell traveled far.

"It is interesting, this story made newspapers in India and the United Kingdom," said DeSousa. "His story went quite a ways."

Male African spurred tortoises typically live to be 70 years old, a mark that Humpty is still around to shoot for thanks to the work of many caring people.

"We expect a complete and full recovery for him," said DeSousa of Humpty. "Our goal is to get Humpty to the turtle and tortoise rescue groups so they can find him a good home."

Patient Humpty Dumpty undergoes surgery to have his shell repaired at a specialty hospital in La Mesa. The shell was broken in three places as a result of a fall in Fallbrook.


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