Fatouosh playing with kids Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/XPRESS

ABU DHABI A giant African spurred tortoise has found a new home in Abu Dhabi and made some friends too.

Ten-year-old Fatoush, who was being looked after by a marine biologist at Park Hyatt Hotel for a week, now lives with the Metcalfe family in Al Reef Villas and plays in their backyard with three British kids Madeline 6, Devon 4 and Miles 2.

Spurred tortoise (Centrochelys sulcata) is the third-largest species of tortoise in the world and the largest of the mainland tortoises. It has a life span of around 50-150 years and can weigh up to 100 kg. Fatoush, who tips the scales at 35kg, is nowhere near her full size yet but looks big enough to evoke a sense of awe and dread among the children. “Do you think she can eat us?” Devon asked mum Toni as he chaperoned Fatoush in the garden.


A native to the Sahara desert, Fatoush was a pet at a Dubai home before it was handed over to the Animal Welfare Abu Dhabi group two weeks ago. After staying at the Park Hyatt for a week, she was adopted by the Metcalfes.

The Mecalfes already have four tortoises but they are dwarfed by Fatoush who is already making her presence felt. She has established her dominance by bullying the other tortoises and taking over their burrows. “Usually, tortoises are not aggressive. They get hostile only during the mating season which is between November and January,” said Toni, who had wanted to keep tortoises as pets since she was a child.

“Initially the kids were scared of Fatoush but now they play with her all day,” she added. “Tortoises love carrots, peppers and grass and Fatoush will need a bucketful of them daily.”