The Long Adventure of OKC Zoo's Galapagos Tortoises

Can you imagine what it would be like to live to be 100 years old? Crazy, right? What about 175 or even 250 years? Think about how much the world changes in a century or two, the things one would witness and potentially experience are astounding! It’s both wild and inspiring to think about but we have a group of animals right here at the Oklahoma City Zoo who might live over 200 years. I’m talking about the Galapagos tortoises!

Galapagos tortoises are some of the longest living animals in the world, and our group of four are the Zoo’s oldest inhabitants. Max, Ellie, Isabela (Isa for short) and Mrs. B range from 70 to 90 years old! Max has lived at the OKC Zoo since 1974, and he’s coming up on his 75th birthday. Ellie has been with us since 1986, and she’s believed to be in her early 70s as well. While Isa and Mrs. B only just came to us in 2016, they are definitely the most senior of the group. At minimum, they are both about 90 years old – that’s human years just in case you needed me to clarify! Unfortunately, records on these guys are kind of spotty before they found their forever homes in a zoological setting, I like to think of them being plus or minus 5 years from our predicted ages, but regardless, they are all quite old.

How awesome would it be to be 90 years old and not even be halfway through your life!? Isa and Mrs. B have lived through at least one World War, maybe even two. They were somewhere in their mid-30s to early 40s when humans first went to space and even older when we landed on the moon! In their relatively young lives they’ve already seen multiple cultural revolutions, the Civil Rights movement, the explosion of music and cinema, and the boom of domestic and international air travel. Think of how much more connected the world has become since the 1920s and how fast technology has grown. From landlines to cell phones to smart phones, radio to television and the internet, Isa and Mrs. B have lived through it all! Did you know that up until 2006 there was a living Galapagos tortoise who was collected by Charles Darwin on his infamous voyage?  She passed away at around 175 years old.

What surprises me the most is that when Isa and Mrs. B were young, animal conservation was almost non-existent. Luckily, they have seen and played a direct part of the growth and importance of conservation in our world. When our old girls were born their species was on a rapid decline towards extinction, going from over 200,000 individuals in the 1600’s all the way down to 3,000 (or less) in the 1970’s. Due to rigorous conservation efforts, their population is on the rise! There are now about 20,000 Galapagos tortoises in the wild.

Sometimes when I’m caring for these guys, I think about how many caregivers they have had so far, and wonder how many more are there to come? My time with them is such a special and significant part of my life, but just a fleeting moment in their very long journey. It takes a whole team of dedicated animal care professionals working across decades, generations and even centuries to give them everything they need throughout their extended stay with us. It is truly a humbling experience to be able to take part in their long adventure. 

-Josh Lucas, animal caretaker

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