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Pip & Max

When our mascot Pip first joined our company in December 2002, he was the size of a matchbox and weighed only two ounces. Since everyone was amazed at how quickly he grew, we began hosting a contest every December to guess his size. In the early years, guesses were in weight, but now Pip has become too big to put on the scale, so guesses are in inches. As of December 2007, Pip's shell measured 28.25 inches at its longest point (this measurement followed the curve of his shell.) If you're signed up on our Facebook page, you'll be notified whenever we're ready to host the next contest.


When did Pip join Bad Monkey and why?

In the fall of 2002, Bad Monkey President Wendy Ice saw several baby sulcata tortoises in a local pet store and couldn't stop thinking about bringing one home as a mascot. Though impractical (due to their longevity, potential size, and physical needs) she rationalized that they were more practical than a monkey--the more obvious choice for a company mascot. And, long-lived tortoises, in many ways, were a symbol for the way that Wendy likes to do business--slowly and deliberately with a long-term perspective.

When Wendy suggested the idea to David Delamare, he strongly discouraged her and she decided against it. But some weeks later, she found herself at the Portland train station waiting for a delayed train. With nothing else to do, she took a walk and wandered into a pet store. It, too, sold sulcatas and while most wandered aimlessly, one seemed to interact with Wendy through the glass. Unable to resist, she asked the clerk to mark the tortoise and promised to pick it up the next day on December 9th (which just happened to be David's birthday.) Fortunately David, too, found Pip irresistible and has since become his primary caretaker and companion. These days, Pip is a member of the Bad Monkey family and an honorary member of the Order of Whispering Rabbits (sorry, we can't reveal secrets of the order). We like to envision him leading the company into the future, long after the rest of us have passed on.

Pip's Bath


What is the significance of Pip's name?

Pip was named for the protagonist in Charles Dicken's novel "Great Expectations." (The 1946 film version, directed by David Lean, is one of our favorite films.) In the story, a poor boy Pip is given a life of privilege by a mysterious benefactor. The terms of this arrangement are that he must not ask who the benefactor is and he must always retain the name of "Pip." This seemed perfect for our new tortoise friend, who was a tiny fellow with great expectations in terms of size and longevity. We later learned that the word "Pip" has other relevant meanings. For instance, according to the Oxford English Dictionary a pip is "an excellent thing or person, a fine example of a thing" (as when Cole Porter wrote "you're a pip" in his famous song "You're the Tops"). Pipping is also the name for the action of a baby bird (or tortoise) when it breaks free from its egg.


What's he like?

It's hard to find reliable information about sulcata tortoises (and websites are invariably contradictory) so we can't make generalizations, but we have noticed a few things about Pip in particular. For instance, he's always hungry. And we do mean always. If allowed to do so, in his youth, he would happily eat more than his body mass each day in fresh vegetables (imagine a human eating a bathtub half full of salad and you'd have an accurate picture.). For awhile we were spending over $200 a month at the grocery store on organic dandelion greens. Now, thank goodness, he's willing to eat a special hay we order online as well as a smattering of fresh organic vegetables.

Though tortoises are reputed to be solitary by nature, Pip definitely likes to be part of the action. If anyone is near, he'll stroll over to check them out. Often this will involve testing the flavor of their shoes (especially if they are brightly colored.) When he lived indoors, it was a battle to avoid accidentally stepping on him, for he was forever creeping up and settling right behind our feet.

In addition to being much faster than expected, Pip is remarkably strong, which we suppose is necessary to hold up his heavy shell. His powerful jaws and sharp beak will easily draw blood, though he doesn't bite on purpose. He's never demonstrated aggression toward humans, but will protect his territory from other animals. Occasionally, when we're away on vacation we board him at a house where there are other tortoises (we tell him this is summer camp). While there, he rams the other males (which is apparently typical for his breed) and chases the dog right out of the yard.

We can only guess at his intelligence, but note that it seems to increase over time. For the first five or six years he lived indoors and slept on a special table upstairs. In the evenings, when he seemed ready to sleep, we'd clap our hands and say "time for bed." He'd then lumber over to the stairs where he'd wait to be carried.

We love watching Pip grow. Every few months we discover some feature that we hadn't before noticed. The most dramatic moment was when his male anatomy suddenly appeared (while enjoying a warm bath). Fortunately we had read about this and didn't think, as many panicked tortoise owners do, that his intestines were falling out. A veterinarian had told us that Pip was a girl (though we had never really believed it and, fortunately, weren't willing to change his name.)

Pip is a stubborn and persistent creature with a mind of his own. We can't train or control him, and we may never be loved by him. But we feel grateful to have him in our lives.

Pip Modeling


Do you recommend sulcatas as pets?

As much as we love and enjoy Pip, we don't recommend sulcatas as pets. In fact, we don't think that they should be sold in pet stores without a permit. Many people buy them when they're small and then regret the decision, which is why there are sulcata rescue organizations throughout the country. It's hard to find veterinarians who really know much about the breed. And it's surprisingly difficult to find agreement on care instructions. So, it's easy to make mistakes. On the tortoise newsgroup that we subscribe to, there are frequent stories of tortoise illness and death in very loving homes. And, of course there are truly terrible cases of neglect. I once spoke to a veterinarian who had treated a baby sulcata for pneumonia--after it had gone through the permanent press cycle in a washing machine. (It recovered.)

We wish we could claim that we've done everything perfectly, but we haven't and the proof is in the photo below. If you closely look at the picture of Pip in the snow (his idea) you'll notice that the sections of his shell have become somewhat raised. This is called pyramiding and it's not supposed to happen. It may have resulted from overfeeding when he was younger or, according to some theories, could have something to do with humidity. We followed the advice that we found and fed him healthy things, but possibly fed him too much or in the wrong ratios. (In nature he'd be eating mostly grasses, while we gave him lots of greens and vegetables.) We've seen much worse cases of pyramiding, and his shell seems to be smoothing out some over time, but we definitely feel sad that, despite our good intentions, we obviously didn't do everything perfectly.

By the way, sulcatas are not truly suitable for cool climates, though with each passing year Pip becomes more acclimated to the cold. Even on very cold days, unless he's in a grumpy mood, he'll usually take a stroll around the yard. And he's dug a burrow that he retreats to when it gets too hot.

Sulcatas require a lot of space. They can go right under (or through) a chain link fence. They are expensive to maintain (we've spent many thousands on Pip's housing, food, electricity, and vet). They don't bond with their keepers in the way that a cat or dog will. And they don't always mix well with other pets. Our resident cat Domino Viola is very curious about Pip, watching him for hours. She grows quite jealous when visitors give him attention. At times she'll creep up to get a closer look but, if she gets closer than about a foot from him, he lunges at her. If you're considering a turtle, we recommend a smaller breed that you can keep indoors.

Pip Modeling


What are Pip's plans for the future?

During the warmer months, Pip stays busy foraging and entertaining admirers. But in the winter, he's more reflective and has time to daydream about the future. When the weather warms, assuming the pay is adequate (strawberries perhaps) he plans to do more modeling for David and hopes that this will impress the girls. We can't be sure, but we believe that he's currently daydreaming about Mrs. T, the galapagos tortoise on Pitcairn Island, whom we've recently described to him. (Despite her moniker, she's not really married.) We can't blame him for pining after this lonely beauty in her tropical paradise (even if she is quite a bit older than he). And though the odds are against his ever meeting her, given their projected life spans, he's got plenty of time to find a way.

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Text and photos copyright Wendy Ice, 2010.
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