New Jersey’s newest “shell-ebrity” Otis finds his following on social media
He’s a rising star from New Jersey whose first YouTube video garnered half a million views on YouTube and whose image is now featured on t-shirts that sell for a solid price.
New Jersey’s budding internet celebrity, Otis, is an Eastern Box Turtle who acts more like a friendly dog than a species known for locking itself in its shell.
Otis owner Chris Leone recognizes a reptile with a unique personality when he sees it. He and his wife, Casey, run Garden State Tortoise, a 10-year-old turtle rescue and breeding center in Atlantic County. They handle the bulk of all reptile rescues for the state.
“In over 30 years of professional practice, I have never encountered another reptile [like this], and even others that are shared on YouTube and stuff. They are friendly animals. He’s on another level,” says Leon.
Otis eagerly follows people and seems to want to climb into your arms or occasionally taste your nose. Clips featuring Otis have skyrocketed Garden State Tortoise’s video views on Instagram and YouTube.
Otis’ affinity for humans doesn’t extend to his fellow turtles, however. His aggressiveness towards them means he gets his own solo sequel to Garden State Tortoise, though there are plans to hopefully find him a mate.
He appears to have been well cared for by his previous owners, but not much else is known that might give clues as to how he got so frisky or why he was abandoned.
Leone thinks Otis’ personality will make him an excellent spokesperson for his kind. You see, eastern box turtles are in decline in New Jersey, and the state’s Department of Environmental Preservation has listed them as a species of special concern, primarily due to habitat loss and being run over by cars.
Garden State Tortoise runs educational programs in schools and zoos to teach the public about reptiles and the need for their care and habitat protection.
“It’s so captivating that we can really teach, especially kids, the importance of New Jersey’s native wildlife,” Leone said.
Although keeping turtles as pets is legal in New Jersey, collecting them from the wild is not as long as one has a state permit.
Otis, however, cannot be returned to the wild as he has lived in captivity for so long.