Are You a Turtle?
From Issue: Volume XVI - Number 23
If you are a homeless turtle, Peggy Nichols always has a place for you along with the two dozen or so species she looks after at her home near Los Coyotes Diagonal and Wardlow Road with authorization from the California Fish and Game Department.
PEGGY NICHOLS, “The Turtle Lady,” holding one of her tortoises in her Long Beach back yard.
We can’t give you her address because, at age 84, entertaining visitors can be a tiresome task. A sign out front aptly names it “turtle haven.”
Several years ago the local schools would regularly bring young children to see the turtles but that stopped after a young girl was being stingy with the stalk of romaine lettuce that Peggy provided.
One turtle gave the youngster a minor bite while attempting to get the tiny morsel being offered.
“The larger tortoises do not have teeth, but use their sharp beaks to break apart their diet of green vegetables and fruit. The smaller water-based turtles are fed fish and other dry prepared food such as trout chow,” Peggy said.
Tortoises are described as a subgroup of land-dwelling turtles that become very large but only head for the water to drink or bathe.
The word “turtle” is most often used to describe pond, river, box, musk and sea turtles, with the latter species capable of growing to six feet long and illegal to have as a pet.
Tortoises are a protected species and Peggy is authorized to issue permits to those who own one.
Peggy’s involvement with turtles began about 61 years ago when it was known that her sons Robert and Ronald were asthmatic and unable to have furry pets like cats and dogs. So the first pet at the Nichols home was a tortoise gift from a great grandparent.
From there the live collection grew along with “thousands” of turtle curios. She works with the Long Beach Animal Shelter by receiving their “strays” and making sure they are in good health before attempting to find an adoptive family.
Peggy serves as the adoption chair for the local chapter of the California Turtle & Tortoise Club (CTTC), which she co-founded in 1964, with a dozen chapters currently and about 2,000 members statewide. Recently she found a home for 20 of her turtles at a newly created pond at the Watts Towers State Historic Park.
Although she no longer gives names to her hard-shelled friends, the two largest tortoises are named. Sully, being from the sulcata (African spurred) tortoise species, is 15 years old and measures 30 inches from head to tail and weighs about 100 pounds. He has a smaller female playmate, Big Mama, that is the frequent target of Sully’s advances these days.
Big Mama has laid as many as 28 eggs following Sully’s friskiness. The gestation period is about three months.
Tending to a herd of turtles is a full-time job for Peggy, giving her little time for extended stays away from home. She gets up at 4 a.m. each morning to make sure her guests are well fed, watered and the grounds kept clean.
The turtles eliminate the need for a lawn mower, keeping the fenced front-yard grass neatly trimmed. “It hasn’t been mowed in years,” she said.
If and when the time comes that Peggy can no longer care for her turtles, she expects that her sons and friends at CTTC will make sure that every one gets adopted. But for the time being she enjoys their company while pursuing a goal of finding each one a permanent home.
For information about adopting these turtles, making cash or food donations, or becoming a member, contact CTTC at www.tortoise.org.