Essex & Suffolk Water has become the first company in the world to use a tortoise to detect leaks.
The eight-year-old reptile, known as Terry, is able to detect leaks and bursts in pipework through sense of smell – and has now been welcomed aboard full-time to the water company’s operations team.
The fascinating news comes following the announcement of Denzel the leakage-detecting dog back in January 2019.
The incredible discovery was made after Terry’s owner, Doris Richardson, from Basildon, realised that her beloved animal was fixated on the loo that was leaking in her bungalow.
The 83-year-old said: “I couldn’t understand why, but Terry was constantly rubbing himself up against my toilet. This was going on for a few weeks and I didn’t really think anything of it, until Essex & Suffolk Water sent someone round to fix my leaky loo.
“After that, he completely lost interest in the toilet.
“It wasn’t until about three months later, when he was doing exactly the same thing to my kitchen cupboards next to the sink, that I realised something was wrong. Turns out I had a dripping tap, and he must have sensed it.
“I mentioned it to the team who came around to help with my tap, and they told me about Denzel –so I knew that it must be a similar thing.”
Conservation experts from the water company explained that tortoises can smell even the faintest of scents, thanks to what is called the Jacobson’s organ on the roof of their mouths.
This is a patch of sensory cells within the main nasal chamber that detects moisture-borne odour particles – allowing them to have a sharp sense of smell.
Miranda Cooper, Conservation Manager at Essex & Suffolk Water, said: “Over the years we have tried this with a variety of different species. Last year we were looking to track down parakeets who could use their sense of smell in a similar way to Terry.
“We have consulted with reptile experts across the globe to see if this is common, however it is believed that this trait is only found in younger Horsfield tortoises.
“It really is a truly incredible discovery!”
After carrying out a number of leakage-detecting tests with the company over the past few months, the tortoise is now a fully-fledged part of the team – accompanying them on daily leakage patrols.
Jim Howey, Head of Water Networks at Essex & Suffolk Water added: “I never thought I’d see the day that I welcomed a tortoise to the team – but then I thought the same when we welcomed Denzel three years ago.
“Sometimes we know there is a leak on our network, but it can be difficult to know exactly where it is on a stretch of pipe - but now we can track them down more accurately thanks to Terry.
“It takes him a little while to get to where he needs to be, but his accuracy is impeccable. I hope we can find more reptile recruits like this in the future.”