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Scales and Tales

Methuselah Memorial established at Reptile Gardens

Methuselah brought joy to many across the world.


July 13, 2011—Rapid City, S.D.—Though the shock of Methuselah's death is still present, the team at Reptile Gardens is looking to the future. Plans are underway to establish a memorial for the beloved mascot and hopefully raise enough funds to bring another Galapagos tortoise to the reptile park.

Named after the Biblical figure, Methuselah, who was recorded as the oldest person whose age, 969 years, is mentioned in the Hebrew book of Genesis, the Galapagos Tortoise has been recognized as the oldest creature to have lived in the state of South Dakota.

His death was sudden and surprising—having just celebrated his 130th birthday on June 12, the reptile appeared to be in excellent health and spirits. Just two weeks later, his level of activity declined and Public Relations Director John Brockelsby knew that it would be only a matter of days before he passed.

"It was sad to see him go," Brockelsby commented. "I'd known him since I was three years old. Methuselah was the last of the original tortoises my dad had brought to the facility back in the 1950s and 60s."

Although the Giant Tortoise Yard at Reptile Gardens has lost its star, it's still home to two other important residents—Tank and Quazi, two endangered Aldabra Tortoises from the Seychelles islands east of Africa.

"No creature will ever be able to take his place," remarked Brockelsby, "but eventually we hope to bring another giant tortoise to our facility so we can continue to educate the public about these animals and raise support for conservation programs."

Galapagos Tortoises generally reach over 500 pounds (250 kg) and their shells can grow as large as 59 inches (150 cm). The land-based, slow-moving reptiles are known for their gentle demeanor and extremely long life span, many living between 100 and 150 years. Among the oldest Galapagos tortoises recorded in history was Harriet, an Australian zoo resident who died of heart failure in 2006 at an approximate age of 170 years.

Tortoises like Harriet and Methuselah gain such high publicity and prestige due to the dire condition of their species. When the Galapagos Islands off the coast of South America were first discovered and explored, no one understood the implications of human interaction with the delicate ecosystem of the archipelago. Whalers and colonists frequently slaughtered tortoises for their meat, and the introduction of invasive and predatory species as well as the destruction of their natural habitat reduced tortoise populations to scarce amounts.

Nearly one hundred years after Charles Darwin first visited the Galapagos Islands to study the flora and fauna, the Ecuadorian government finally declared the area a wildlife preserve. The Galapagos National Park was officially formed in 1959. The crucial turning point arrived too late for some species though; 3 of the 14 known types of tortoise had been completely exterminated.

In 1965, with the formation of the Charles Darwin Research Station, scientists and researchers launched a crucial tortoise conservation program. Tighter controls and regulations imposed by the Ecuadorian government regarding tourism and resource allocation have made it possible for CDRS members to incubate tortoise eggs and eventually repatriate juveniles to their native islands.

Despite their recent rise in population, Galapagos Tortoises are still endangered—poachers and feral animals, like the black rat, are still problematic for the reptiles. And the CDRS will need continued financial support in order to maintain its operations.

For more than 30 years, Brockelsby and Reptile Gardens have been proud supporters of the Charles Darwin Foundation, an organization aimed at protecting the fragile Galapagos ecosystem. In fact, Reptile Gardens President Joe Maierhauser and Vice President Tom Lang actually visited Methuselah's birthplace, the Galapagos, in 1987.

Speaking of his uncle, Reptile Gardens founder Earl Brockelsby, Maierhauser said "Earl would travel all over the world and bring the most amazing things back to show us when we were kids. His dream, when he created the Gardens, was to share his love of exotic plants and reptiles with the public as well."

To learn more about Reptile Gardens' hours, admission costs, and Season Pass specials, call (605) 342-5873 or (800) 335-0275 or visit their website at www.reptilegardens.com.

About Reptile Gardens

Founded in 1937, Reptile Gardens is a reptile park located in Rapid City, South Dakota. Their mission is to educate the public on important environmental issues, while working closely with many major zoos worldwide to promote species survival. Housing a large variety of unique reptiles, and exotic plants, this reptile zoo is actively involved within the local community and provides wildlife education for people of all ages.




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