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Roaming Tortoise Takes Star Turn on Park Slope Sidewalk

By Leslie Albrecht | September 5, 2013 8:10am
 Goldie, a 51-year-old African desert tortoise, went for a stroll on Prospect Park West.
Roaming Tortoise Takes Star Turn on Park Slope Sidewalk
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PARK SLOPE — "Mad Men" actress Elisabeth Moss was spotted shooting a movie in Park Slope on Wednesday morning, but the star who drew throngs of photo-snapping fans was a 51-year-old with scaly skin and claws.

Goldie, a pet tortoise, stopped locals in their tracks when he went out for a stroll on Prospect Park West near 13th Street. Cyclists screeched to a halt, children chased after him, and grown men smiled with glee at the sight of the prehistoric-looking creature.

After all, it is not every day that one spots a 50-pound reptile native to the deserts of Africa trundling down the sidewalk, exhibiting laser-like focus in a quest for grass to nibble.

One woman assumed the tortoise was a remote-control toy. A biker shouted as a he sped by in the bike lane, "Put him by the lake [in Prospect Park]! He needs to lay his eggs!"

There are snapping turtles in Prospect Park, but Goldie is a pet that belongs to David Manzuarte, who watched from a nearby park bench as awestruck children took turns stroking Goldie's amber-colored shell. "He likes that — he knows you're petting him," Manzuarte told one little girl.

When the reptile — who moved with surprising alacrity given his dump truck-esque build —  ventured too far out of sight, Manzuarte would walk over, scoop him up like a bag of cement, and move him closer to his bench.

Manzuarte and Goldie are both 51 years old, but they've only known each other for two years. Manzuarte, who works in construction management at NYU, is a lifelong lover of turtles. He runs what he said is the city's only turtle rescue service, finding loving homes for turtles and tortoises whose owners have either abandoned them or can no longer care for them.

Goldie was languishing in a cold barn upstate after his owner had passed away when he was donated to Manzuarte. At first, Manzuarte planned to find a new caregiver for the tortoise, but he kept him as a pet after his wife "fell in love" with Goldie.

Now, Goldie lives in relative comfort in a spacious apartment on Prospect Park West and on sunny days, Manzuarte takes him outside. Goldie's outdoor adventures always get a reaction from onlookers, especially kids. Manzuarte cheerfully answered the same questions over and over: How old is the tortoise? What is his name? What does he eat?

A woman with a pit bull wanted to know if Goldie liked other animals. Manzuarte suggested that the dog, who was straining on his leash to get a whiff of the foreign species, keep his distance.

"How heavy is that thing?" asked one young man.

"Try picking him up," answered Manzuarte. "Approach him from the back. Don't let him see you coming. He might tear your finger off. Just kidding."

Goldie, like other Sulcata tortoises, is a vegetarian who prefers salad. He happily munched leaves but rejected a clover blossom that one little girl offered him.

When Goldie had had enough sun, Manzuarte picked him up and placed him gently in an UPPAbaby stroller. "He ate a cigarette butt," Manzuarte lamented as he walked away. "So now I have to go home and feed him some cauliflower. He's a full-time job, I tell you."

Then he crossed Prospect Park West, and maneuvered the stroller into his apartment building, looking from a distance like any other Park Slope dad.