Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pope got a turtle!

The pope gets treated, well, like a pope. A group of Pygmies showed up as Benedict XVI was leaving Cameroon in an unscheduled visit with an unexpected gift: a live turtle to take back to the Vatican. John Thavis of CNS reports:

The 15 Pygmies from the Baka ethnic group came to the pope's residence at the apostolic nunciature in Yaounde March 20 as the pontiff was preparing to leave for Angola. They built a ceremonial hut out of leaves in the garden of the residence, and the pope came out to greet them.

The Pygmies, including grandparents, parents and children, sang songs and danced to the beat of drums, and then gave the pope three gifts: a basket, a cloth mat and a turtle, which is a symbol of wisdom in Cameroon.

The fate of the turtle was a little unclear at first. Vatican officials aboard the papal plane to Angola told reporters it had been left behind in Cameroon.

But a few minutes later, the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, walked into the journalist section of the plane carrying the turtle in a woven cage. Reporters snapped photos as the brown turtle, about eight inches long, poked its head out from under its shell.

The spokesman said he wasn't sure if the turtle would make the return trip to Rome and take up residence in the Vatican. He suggested it might find a home in the Vatican gardens.

I love turtles. Even got salmonella from one as a kid. Serious deadly. I hope the pope was careful. And the fact that he could bring it back shows that it's good to be king--no customs.

I'm desperate to find a shot of the little guy. Or even what kind it is. Googling only turns up sea turtles as nesting on Cameroon beaches. It can't be a sea turtle. Any herpetologists out there?


LUANDA, Angola (Reuters) - Pope Benedict flew from Cameroon to Angola on Friday with an unusual traveling companion -- a turtle.

Just before he left Cameroon, the pope met a group of Baka Pygmies, hunter-gatherers from the country's rain forests. They came to the grounds of the Vatican embassy in the capital Yaounde and gave him the turtle of about 30 cm (one foot) long.

Taken aboard the plane in a wicker cage, it made the flight to Luanda in the first class section of an Alitalia jet along with the Vatican entourage, without apparent discomfort.

The Vatican said it was not yet clear if the turtle -- which has not yet been named -- would be left in Angola or find a new home in the Vatican gardens.