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Westminster City Council

Making a getaway at 90: Zuma the tortoise rescued from waste disposal site

Westminster refuse staff leapt into action after a London resident called to say her tortoise Zuma had disappeared with the rubbish after getting into a bag of garden waste.

Sarah Joiner, who has lived in central London all her life, asked a Veolia Westminster administrator for help and the enquiry was quickly escalated to staff at Westminster City Council asking for help to rescue her 90 year old tortoise. Sarah, who’s 56 and has Multiple Sclerosis, has owned Zuma for four decades. 

Using GPS satellite tracking, Westminster City Council staff managed to find the refuse lorry as it made its way with the getaway tortoise to the waste treatment centre. There, general waste is used to create energy for the National Grid – the council collects 150,000 bags of rubbish every day.

Luckily for Zuma, the collection vehicle was still on its round and had not yet tipped its waste into the massive storage bunker which stores thousands of tonnes of waste before processing.

The vehicle, carrying 10 tonnes of waste, was put on a separate side in the tipping hall to be searched. Sarah arrived at the centre and was given a full safety brief before donning full safety equipment to conduct the search for Zuma alongside waste management staff.

It took two-and-a-half hours of trawling through around 1,000 black bags, and a thermal imaging camera was even used; and incredibly Zuma was found safe and well, albeit unaware of the enormity of his adventure.

Sarah Joiner said: “Thank you is never going to be enough.  It was amazing teamwork; there was no nonsense about it just enormous good will in finding him.  I can’t thank Jarno Stet from the council, Lynn Davis, Ben Gillett and Simon Lane from Veolia enough.”

Cllr Melvyn Caplan, Westminster City Council’s Cabinet Member for City Management and Customer Services said: “We’ve all had that feeling of panic when we realise we’ve lost something, but when it’s a much loved family pet then it really is a disaster. On this occasion the understanding and hard work of our waste services staff is an exemplar of how we strive to ensure our residents receive outstanding customer service. This example of going above and beyond what is required is one Westminster can be proud of, and I commend our staff and colleagues at Veolia for pulling out the stops to ensure a successful reunion between Zuma and Sarah.”

Lynn Davis, Contract Manager for District Heating at Veolia said:  “I’m delighted that were able to find Zuma and return him to Mrs Joiner unharmed, he really has survived against the odds. The team at Veolia were all keen to help when they heard what had happened and together we were able to ensure that the search was conducted safely and effectively. This was certainly a different way to spend a Friday afternoon and I’m just relieved we were successful.”