It all started for him with a science experiment. There was a project that required his grade school class to bring goldfish, or guppies, or whatever fish one could get one’s hands on. After that class, he took home most of the fish that his classmates brought. He remembers, “There were Red Swordtails and Black… um, somethings.” For Itchyworms band member and ABS-CBN’s Showtime regular TV host Jugs Jugueta, it was love at fish sight! It was perfect that his elder brother Dennis had an aquarium at home. Thus started his curiosity and caring for pets.

“Maraming fish talaga (There were really so many fish),” he remembers. What attracted him to having pet fish were the beguiling colors.

He also liked the idea of minimal maintenance. Growing up, their family always had dogs, “not really as pets, but rather more as guard dogs.” His first “real” pet dog was a mini Pinscher who passed away after 13 years of companionship. Together with his wife Andie, they now care for four dogs: Turbo who is a Malte-Poo (crossbreed between a Maltese and a Poodle) and 3 Shih Tzus named Wookie, Pancho, and Momo. Thinking about it, Jugs muses that caring for the fish was so different from caring for dogs. “There was no need to walk them,” he exclaims.

So, as the story goes, one summer, all his exotic fish died. A friend of his who was into exotic animals as well kept urging him to get a tortoise. Jugs’ thinking then was that they might be hard to maintain, so he declined. The enterprising friend then cleverly approached his then-girlfriend and lovely wife-to-be, Andie, who decided it would be a perfect gift for Jugs. On Valentine’s day of 2016, Jugs’ passion for tortoises began when Andie gave him a Sulcata Tortoise.

Love at first sight

That first tortoise was named Bert. “The Sulcata is the third largest tortoise after the Galapagos and the Aldabra,” he explains. From then on, he was addicted to everything tortoise.

He joined online communities that shared the same passion, such as the Philippine Tortoise Enthusiasts on Facebook. “Joining that community gave me more information about tortoises.” And with great knowledge came greater, um, addiction. Having a fraternity of exotic peers feeds the passion.

“Napadami na sila ngayon (There’s a lot of them now),” he laughs. “Pahamak talaga ang Facebook, eh (Facebook really gets you in trouble)!”

Today, he has 13 in all. Among the tortoise species he cares for are the Sulcata, Aldabra, Red Foot, Indian Star, Radiated, Russian, and Golden Greek. He also has a Pig-nosed turtle. When asked what the difference is between tortoise and turtle, he explains, “The turtle is water based while tortoises are land based. Hindi sila (tortoises) nagsi-swimming. Yung paa, parang elephant. (They don’t swim. Their feet are like an elephant’s.) The feet are not webbed.”

When asked what is it that attracts him to the tortoise, he jokes, “Hindi sila nangangagat. Sobrang bait. (They don’t bite. They’re very gentle.)” And ultimately, “Ang cute, eh (they’re cute)!” And, he laughingly adds, “They are faster than you think!”

Commitment required

As a parting shot, Jugs reminds us of one’s responsibility as a pet owner. “If you get into caring for a pet, it is a commitment. It‘s almost like getting a new car. [There’s a] purchase price, but the costs continue because of maintenance, gas, repairs. You don’t just get one, tapos iwan mo lang sa bahay (and then leave them at home).”

Skills for shells

Should anyone be interested in taking in a tortoise as pet, would he recommend it, and what would his advise be? “Start with the easy breeds like the Red-foot or Elongata. Then you can move on to the more active personality of the Sulcata.”

Furthermore, he warns, “They are all endangered, so kung bibili kayo ng exotic animals, yung may papeles, ha (if you’re going to buy exotic animals, buy those that have a permit)!”

We asked if there has been a meet and greet among their dogs and the reptiles. “Hindi pwede. Baka paglaruan ng dogs. (It’s not allowed. The dogs might think they’re toys.) The shell that we think is impervious is not. In my research, nararamdaman nila (they can feel it). It’s like our nails. The tortoise feels it when the shell is, well, attacked. It is not as solid a case as we think it is.”

With all his experience with different kinds of animals, we wondered if he still had any other dream pets. “Gusto ko iyang tanong na iyan. Gusto ko ng Caiman Alligator. Pero ayaw ni Andie (I like that question. I want a Caiman Alligator. But Andie doesn’t),” he laughs. As for more dogs, if he has the space, he prefers Labradors or Golden Retrievers.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s July 2019 issue.
Photos by Reg Hernandez.

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– Starshells the Burmese Star Tortoise and the Indian Star Tortoise
– Family finds pet tortoise missing since 1982 after cleaning house
– Man attempts to smuggle tortoises disguised as pastry into Berlin