Meet Bowser, Ahwatukee’s resident African tortoise - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Tukee Talk

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Meet Bowser, Ahwatukee’s resident African tortoise

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Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 8:06 am

What at first was somewhat of an intense situation, what happened to Michele Arviso became more lighthearted by the time it was all over.

And it was over when Phoenix police officers handcuffed the man they were looking for and put him in the back of a police cruiser.

He may not don a colored bandana around his head or sport a name based off some famous renaissance artist, but that night about two weeks ago, Arviso’s pet African sulcata tortoise helped fight some crime like his older, mutated cartoon brothers.

Arviso said that she was sitting in her Ahwatukee Foothills home when she heard a commotion outside. It turned out there was a domestic disturbance at a residence adjacent to her backyard. The police eventually came knocking, saying that they believed the suspect could be hiding somewhere close by, and they wanted to take a look in her backyard just to be safe.

After searching for a few minutes, they came around to the side of Arviso’s yard where there was a ping pong table and nothing else immediately visible. But officers spotted something else amidst the darkness — the scaly head and coarse brown shell that belonged to Arviso’s tortoise. When they tried to get a better look at Bowser, who is more than 2 feet long and 80-plus pounds, something else caught the officers’ eye — the suspect.

“The guy was laying behind the tortoise and the cops caught him,” Arviso said. “They took him away without incident and I think if it wasn’t for Bowser, who knows what would have happened?”

Native to the Sahara Desert, African sulcata tortoises are kept as pets, as Bowser is, and are known for their affinity to their human keepers.

“He loves people,” Arviso said.

Bowser munched happily away and didn’t pay me a second glance when I was taking pictures of him and petting him on his scaly head. It took some coaxing to get him out of his burrow at first (which sulcatas are known for) but the sight of fresh, leafy greens eventually became too much to resist.

Arviso said Bowser is adopted and is 15 years old, a wiry teenager in a species that can live as long as human beings. Arviso also said that Bowser can eat like one as well. She goes through countless pounds of greens and other vegetables each week, which can be tough on the wallet, but she worked out a deal with a local grocery store when they found out how much she was buying each week.

Africa sulcata tortoises are, according to the Animal Planet website, “surpassed in size only by the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands and Seychelles.” They can reach weights upward of 100 pounds.

But caring for the tortoise is more than enough for Arviso and her family — as he has become a part of it himself. And while Bowser may never learn martial arts, he has showed he can be of help to the other crime fighters.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or

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