For 56 years, Methuselah was Reptile Gardens’ beloved mascot. On Sunday, July 9, 2011 we were all saddened by the loss of our old friend and long-time animal resident, Methuselah, the giant Galapagos Tortoise.
Methuselah arrived at Reptile Gardens in December of 1954 from the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, South America. He was flown to Miami and then transported by train to Rapid City. Thankfully, the crews of the rail freight company took good care of him, keeping him warm as he traveled from Florida to South Dakota in the dead of winter. He arrived in good health and adapted to life in South Dakota quite well. He joined a growing herd of giant tortoises already at Reptile Gardens. The herd was made up of both Galapagos Tortoises and Aldabra Tortoises from the Seychelles Islands off the coast of Madagascar.
Earl Brockelsby obtained his first giant tortoise in 1949, a large Aldabra tortoise. Several other tortoises were added over the next few years. In the fall of 1954, an animal dealer in Florida contacted Earl to let him know he had been offered a very large Galapagos tortoise that had just been taken from the Galapagos by a dealer in Peru. Earl did not hesitate and jumped at the chance to obtain the big tortoise even though the cost for this tortoise plus transportation was many times higher than any of the others he had recently purchased.
In the 50s and early 60s, our herd of tortoises numbered around 20. At one point, we sent all the female tortoises we had to a facility in Florida where they were added to a captive breeding program. Over the years, our most elderly tortoises slowly died off until Methuselah was the last remaining one here from our original group.
Those of us who worked with the tortoises on a daily basis learned each one’s personality, their habits, preferences, and behaviors. Methuselah, honestly, always had the most personality. He was smart and knew how to get what he wanted. He could be cunning, even. Sometimes you could tell he was thinking, as though he was formulating some plan.
For a while, in the 1970s, some of our staff members gave him the nickname “Earl,” after our founder Earl Brockelsby. Some of you may remember him by that name. But, over the years, as he continued to hang in there and outlive his peers, we went back to Methuselah, as it seemed so appropriate.
We estimate, based on our visitation figures, that Methuselah contacted well over 12 million visitors in his 56 years here at Reptile Gardens. There are tens of thousands of photos of Methuselah and our visitors out there. Many of you have shared your photos with us since his death, and we enjoy seeing them. Thank you for those memories. It’s fun to know that old tortoise made such an impression on so many people.
Methuselah’s playground at Reptile Gardens, features a bronze cast of Methuselah as a tribute to his memory. July 10th, 2012, the day of the unveiling, was declared, "Go Slow For A Day," by Rapid City Mayor, Sam Kooiker, in honor of our beloved friend.
We invite and welcome children to play on the bronze statue of the giant tortoise and have pictures taken, just as many kids and families have done since Methuselah first arrived at Reptile Gardens in 1954.
Don’t forget to visit our current giant tortoises Quazi, Tank, and Orville. In fact, Quazi and Tank are former yard mates of Methuselah. Don’t forget to take lots of pictures (the camera loves them, and they’ve recently become Instagram stars).