Methuselah, a giant tortoise whose life began in the Galapagos Islands 130 years ago, has died in Rapid City, S.D. Since 1954, the huge animal has been a star attraction at Reptile Gardens, where officials estimate that he posed for photographs with tens of thousands of visitors, many of them children.
Methuselah began his life in 1881. Here's a sampling of what else was going on that year:
- James Garfield became president.
- Billy the Kid escaped from jail and was killed by Pat Garrett in New Mexico.
- The American Red Cross was established.
- The O.K. Corral gunfight took place in Tombstone, Arizona.
According to the AP, park officials commonly heard grandparents telling their grandchildren about their own visits to see Methuselah when they were young.
Park public relations director John Brockelsby said that he first met the tortoise when he was three years old.
"My favorite memories are when I rode him as a child and when I would scratch his neck and under his chin," he told the Rapid City Journal. "Also, feeding him watermelon – his favorite – was always a lot of fun, because if there was ever a chance to see pleasure on a tortoise's face, it was then. He just loved it."
The 500-pound tortoise had more watermelon last month, when the park threw a party for his birthday. His 130 years represent a long life, even by giant tortoise standards.
After Methuselah's arrival at the park at age 73, children were allowed to ride on the tortoise's back — a practice that became forbidden over the years. And park officials say that in the past 10 days, Methuselah had shown signs that he might not live for much longer.
Brockelsby tells the AP that Reptile Gardens will build a memorial to Methuselah. He said of the giant tortoise, "losing him is like losing an old, good friend."