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Tortoise moving slowly, stuck at NH hotel as pandemic delays new home in Maine

  • BJ the tortoise is a refugee at the Hancock Inn due to the coronavirus pandemic. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • BJ the tortoise is a refugee at the Hancock Inn due to the coronavirus pandemic. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • BJ the tortoise is a refugee at the Hancock Inn due to the coronavirus pandemic. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • BJ the tortoise is a refugee at the Hancock Inn due to the coronavirus pandemic. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • BJ the tortoise is a refugee at the Hancock Inn due to the coronavirus pandemic. Monadnock Ledger-Transcript — Ben Conant

  • BJ and owner Marjorie McAlister Hynes outside the Hancock Inn on Aug. 31, 2020. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/23/2020 9:52:26 PM
Modified: 9/23/2020 9:52:21 PM

The Hancock Inn’s longest-tenured guest this summer was a refugee of the COVID-19 crisis. While waiting for his moving paperwork to clear, 22-year-old BJ spent the summer sunbathing and clearing some brush behind the inn. “He has a lovely personality,” Hancock Inn owner Marcia Coffin said, “as well as a beautiful shell.” BJ is an 80-pound African spur-thighed tortoise.

BJ’s owner, Marjorie McAlister Hynes, was in the middle of moving to Maine around St. Patrick’s Day when she stopped for a couple days in Hancock to visit her sister, the Hancock Inn’s front-of-house manager Jean Marie Cowhig — right when the governor issued stay-at-home orders.

Moving plans now upended, McAlister Hynes rode out the stay-at-home orders with Cowhig in the emptied inn, and was able to retrieve BJ once restrictions lifted, installing him in a fenced-in area behind the Inn in July.

In the meantime, the original permits she’d been granted for moving exotic pets to Maine expired (she also has a parrot).

McAlister Hynes has spent the rest of the summer redoing the paperwork necessary to move exotic pets to Maine, negotiating odd office hours and finding a vet prepared to examine an unusual species in an unfamiliar state during a pandemic — while splitting time between Hancock and a friend’s house in Maine.

BJ had previously been staying in Virginia with two other tortoises that belonged to one of McAlister Hynes’ friends, since there was no suitable place for him where she lived, she said. The process of moving him — an involved one even in pandemic-free days — began earlier this year after one of the other tortoises started being aggressive toward BJ, she said.

African spur-thighed tortoises, also known as sulcata tortoises, are native to their namesake continent, and they’ve evolved so that they can’t digest their food unless their body temperature is between 90 and 105 degrees, McAlister Hynes said

She’s had to put down mats to keep BJ from burrowing under a rhododendron bush in his enclosure, the way he would in the wild. BJ has access to a heating pad and lamp, as he will in the indoor-outdoor enclosure prepared for him in Maine.

“It’s not as simple as traveling with a dog,” she said.

Although she’s currently looking for work, McAlister Hynes previously worked as an educator, bringing reptiles and other animals to classrooms throughout New England, as she ran the Rhode Island Herpetological Association with her late husband.

One year, for a Mother’s Day gift, her husband gave her a hatchling tortoise as a gift — BJ.

“He was about the size of a golf ball,” McAlister Hynes said of BJ. She continues to use her husband’s last name, McAlister, for anything related to animal education in his honor, she said.

For now, McAlister Hynes said she’s grateful for BJ’s interim home at the Hancock Inn.

“They have been so gracious and so considerate,” she said.




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