ANDY Browne has rescued a nine stone rare tortoise named after Victor Meldrew which is living with him and the other 400 reptiles he cares for.
Farmer Andy, 47, who runs Swindon Reptile Rescue, answered an appeal from a couple in Liverpool who had Victor for 14 years and were concerned that he hadn’t stopped growing.
Victor is a sulcata tortoise which are known to live until they’re 150 and is likely to grow for another 35 years. Andy, who works at Eastdrop Farm, in Highworth, collected the reptile for free and is looking to rehome Victor, named from the title sequence and main character in the sitcom One Foot In the Grave.
He said: “They got Victor from a Focus DIY shop when he was a baby and they sold him as a common tortoise so they wouldn’t have known that he would keep growing for as long as he will. “They’d tried a lot of zoos and wildlife sanctuaries but nobody would take him in so they were relieved that I could help out.
“They were pretty distraught to give him away as Victor was a much-loved pet but they’ve been keeping in regular contact since I picked him up around two weeks ago. “I’ve never seen one like him before and he’ll need specialist care so I imagine he’ll end up staying with me for the foreseeable future unless the right person comes forward. “Victor seems pretty happy bulldozing my garden at the minute and thankfully even though his diet is a bit different to regular tortoises he eats dry grass and hay which I have good access to working on a farm.”
At Andy’s home, in Highworth, he has tortoises, snakes and lizards which he has been rescuing for 35 years. He is assisted by Heather Buchanan, 17, and has around 20 volunteers who help out.
Andy works with reptile charities, zoos and specialist shops to take care of all his residents. He also visits schools with some of them and runs demonstrations.
He said: “I really fell into doing this but I have such a passion for it. “On average, I rescue about 10 reptiles a week and unfortunately only about two of those get rehomed. “That’s because of a lack of people coming forward and also because I have a harsh vetting process as I don’t want to rehome them and end up taking them back in a few months down the line.”
Andy runs a nationwide free pick-up service and the furthest he’s gone to pick up a reptile is Wick, in Scotland. He said: “That was a 15 hour drive there and a 15 hour drive back but I’d rather do that than see them left with owners who can’t look after them. “I end up paying around £700 just in taking care of them each month, which is a financial stretch but I love doing this.”
Anyone who would like to rehome Victor or any other of Andy’s reptiles can visit swindonreptilerescue.com.