Protecting the oldest among us
Two longtime bachelors are proving that it’s never too late to find love.
Al (widowed) and Tex (serially dater) were getting up there in the years and were perhaps more than a bit rusty on the romance angle, neither having enjoyed the company of the fairer sex for decades. But when the lovely Patches and coquettish Corky came to town, all bets were off and these old-timers were back in the game. The girls were nearly half their age, but love knows no boundaries—and these Aldabra giant tortoises were no exception.
Humans have Internet dating sites; Al and Tex had Knoxville Zoo Assistant Curator of Herpetology Michael Ogle. Noting the relative abundance of eligible Aldabra debutantes at Zoo Atlanta, Ogle hatched a plan of romance with his herpetologist colleagues.
Befitting their refined age (Al is a mature 130 years old, while Tex is a sprightly 90), the Aldabra courtship brought to mind an earlier era, when affection bloomed through months or years of handwritten missives and discreetly delivered gifts. We’re unsure if any correspondence was actually exchanged between these gentlemen and their lady friends, but the long distance relationship was certainly a key component: for a successful Aldabra pairing, the prospective lovers must stoke the fires of anticipation by staying apart for several months following their initial meeting.
Since neither zoo had an enclosure large enough to separately sequester the budding lovers, one facility took all the guys, while the other took all the girls for the prescribed length of separation. In late May, they were reunited. Would they remember each other after so many months apart? Zookeepers needn’t have worried. As the Knoxville News Sentinel related:
For eager Al, it was lust at first sight. He moved much faster than stereotypical tortoise pace to mate with Patches.
Tex is approaching the notoriously fickle relationship waters a bit more cautiously, but sparks are reportedly starting to develop.
Aldabra giant tortoises are native only to the Seychelles’s Aldabra Atoll. By the late 1800s, only a thousand of them remained, vast numbers of them having been consumed by human sailors on passing ships, either eaten outright or taken from the islands as food to-go. Fortunately, thanks to concerted efforts to save the species, more than 100,000 of them are living in the wild today.
Aldabra tortoises are extremely long-lived. As that fount of communal Internet knowledge, Wikipedia, charmingly puts it:
Some individual Aldabra giant tortoises are thought to be over 200 years of age, but this is difficult to verify because they tend to outlive their human observers.
The Aldabra Adwaita was a sage 255 years old when he passed in 2006 at the Kolkata Zoo. Carbon dating of his shell helped us short-lived humans determine his age. At the time of Adwaita’s birth, the Industrial Revolution was just getting started and the United States of America was still decades away from uniting.
Galapagos tortoises are comparable in size to Aldabras. This month old Galapagos baby has a big future ahead of him. (Photo: Taronga Western Plains Zoo)
Aldabra tortoises join the bowhead whale as one of the longest lived animals—Alaska Native whale hunters have found century-old harpoon points embedded in the blubber of the whales. In the flora arena, old-growth forests can reach hundreds of years old, with both living and dead trees creating a unique habitat that sustains a wide variety of species.
Earthjustice is actively working to protect both these pillars of longevity. In the Arctic, much is still unknown about the endangered bowhead whales, including key feeding grounds and migration routes, and how they would be impacted by oil and gas drilling activities. On land, Earthjustice has been working for decades to protect old-growth forests in the northwest to Alaska, and the wildlife that depend on them.
In comparison to methuselahs like the Aldabra giant tortoise, bowhead whale and old-growth forests, human lifespans pass quickly and numerously. Yet despite our relatively short time on this earth, our collective rapacious appetite for energy and all-manner of resources continues to leave an awful measure of lingering destruction.
For their part, Al, Tex, Patches and Corky continue to romance their way to re-building the Aldabra population, one clutch of eggs at a time. If the pairings are successful, baby Aldabras could make their appearance by this winter.
For a peek at Al and Patches’s date night, visit the Knoxville News Sentinel. (Note of caution: The accompanying video is possibly NSFW. Viewer discretion is advised.)