By Gina Cherelus
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City is filled with oddities that can surprise even the most die-hard New Yorkers and when Henry the tortoise turned up in a stroller in Central Park this week for his daily outing it turned more than a few heads.
The 17 pound (7.7 kg) sulcata tortoise is the pet of 24-year-old Amanda Green who lives in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan. He led a reclusive existence until Green took to Craigslist to advertise for a tortoise walker.
New Yorkers are accustomed to dog walkers but no so much tortoise walkers, so Green expected only a few responses.
Instead, the listing went viral and hundreds of people from all over the world applied for the $10-an-hour job.
"Just like a person who has a dog would hire a dog walker, I figured why not a tortoise walker?" Green said in an interview with Reuters TV.
"It took on a life of its own ... I heard from about 500," said Green, a copywriter for a style and beauty website.
The job went to Amalia McCallister, who has experience from having worked in a pet store.
"You honestly do have to keep your eye on him," McCallister said, describing the job as fun and not too taxing. "I could, maybe, read a book, but you've got to make sure he doesn't eat the wrong thing."
Sulcata tortoises are native to north central Africa but they adapt well to different environments. Land-dwelling reptiles with a shell, they are mainly herbivores. Henry, who is taken to the park by stroller and then allowed to roam free, particularly likes dandelions and grass.
He has amassed an online fanbase with more than 5,000 Instagram followers and nearly 300 likes on Facebook for his profile: "The Notortoise BIG". The profile's name is a play on the stage name used by the late rapper Christopher Wallace, who called himself Biggie Smalls and The Notorious B.I.G.
Green adopted Henry a couple of years ago from a woman who was unable to manage her growing family and the tortoise. She said Henry is friendly and curious but needs lots of attention.
Green said she knows that Henry will one day outgrow her apartment. Male sulcata tortoises can reach a length of more than 30 inches (76 cm) and tip the scales at up to 200 pounds (90 kg).
"Am I going to somehow get a backyard in New York City?" Green asked. "These animals do need exercise so it is really great that I have a walker now."
(Reporting by Gina Cherelus; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Toni Reinhold)