These tortoises owe their lives to a quick-thinking teen

 
 
 

Tiny hooves pounded the earth. Terrified animals were desperately fleeing the crackling flames as raging fires devoured Hermanus. All Corné Uys could think of was whether they’d make it out alive. The teenage conservationist realised that the slowest animals had the slightest chance of survival. “When I got home from school, it hit me – this is the biggest fire Hermanus has ever seen,” he says. Distressed families bundled their belongings and sped away from the streams of smoke overshadowing their houses. Instead, Uys packed his father’s car with emergency supplies and raced out into the blaze. He had tortoises to save.

Running back and forth between the flames, Uys risked his life to rescue the little critters. The uncertainty of whether each tortoise he found would survive brought him to tears, but the teenager kept going. Surrounded by smoke, many of the animals were injured and on the verge of being suffocated in their shells. That evening, Uys and his father cleaned each creature by hand at their home. All 33 tortoises made it through the night.

A certified snake catcher at just 17-years-old, Uys’ passion for animals has always run wild. Though he models himself on the character of famed conservationist Steve Irwin, he acted on pure instinct during the fires earlier this month. Thanks to his tenacity, the tortoises began their second chance at life at the Fernkloof Nature Reserve. “When I released the tortoises I felt quite emotional,” Uys says. “I knew those 33 were not going to make it if I didn’t do anything about it.” His selfless act is a reflection of the courage and compassion of all South Africans, and proof that our creatures are in good hands. “Wildlife deserve to be appreciated and looked after,” Uys says. “Without them, we can’t survive.”