Tommy – Zimbabwe’s ageless tortoise

By Freedom Mupanedemo

The world’s oldest aquatic animal, an ocean quahog  discovered in Iceland, according to online sources, had to be killed in order for scientists to determine its actual age by counting the number of growth rings on its inner shell.

Unfortunately, death had to be meted on this creature as scientists cracked it open when they discovered that it had remarkably lived for a whopping 507 years.

And to unravel the exact age of Zimbabwe’s own ageless tortoise, Tommy, who is thought to have lived for over three centuries, scientists need its shell too.

Believed to be over 300 years, Tommy, a popular resident of Snake World on the outskirts of Harare, is a rare spectacle and could find his way into the Guinness Book of Records as one of the world’s oldest terrestrial animals if scientists are to finally discover his exact age.

Now a mound that can be easily mistaken for a boulder and with no signs of tiring, Tommy is a charmer who has learnt to pose  for pictures with tourists who frequent Snake World for kodak moments with this huge animal, apparently gifted with longevity.

While the record of the world‘s oldest tortoise is currently held by Jonathan, a rare species of a tortoise from the Seychelles who is 182 years, caretakers of Zimbabwe’s Tommy say he is well over 300 years and is still counting.

“We do not know the actual age of Tommy but he is believed to be over 300 years old.

“This park (Snake World) was opened in 1986 and then Tommy was brought in from the Galapagos Islands where he was said to be the oldest in that island. He came with a tag showing he was 257 years then but unfortunately there are no records now.

Since 1968, when he came to Zimbabwe, he is still looking healthy and counting,” said Biggie Madonoro, Tommy’s caretaker.

With a wrinkled face, a bucket size shell and huge curving arms, the gigantic Tommy walks with elegancy and seems to have developed a strong bond with his caretakers, so much that he gestures when the name Tommy is called.

With a neat thatched miniature shed as his official bedroom, Tommy usually loves basking in the sun outside his residence.

For much comfort, his caretakers nurture a well maintained lawn around Tommy’s residence. To complete his “lavish” lifestyle, there is a pond that Tommy leisurely throws himself into on occasions to cool.

Remarkably, the ageless Tommy seems to have developed a relationship with tourists too that even in his sleep, he wakes up to meet his visitors.

“When we have visitors and Tommy is in his bedroom, I usually call his name and normally he doesn’t take time to crawl out of his shed, he is now used to the name,” says Biggie.

With no other tortoise or female counterpart to match his imposing stature in the park, one would quickly feel for Tommy for his loneliness.

But his innocent face and gait signpost an animal really enjoying old age and bachelor life.

But authorities have always made efforts to find another of his species from the Galapagos Islands with little success. Local species don’t match his size and it’s impossible for his keepers to find his match from the local species which are too small.

“The unfortunate part is that local species are very small and do not match the size of Tommy. He is, however, enjoying life and always fascinates visitors with his gait and gestures. In fact, he is the biggest attraction at Snake Park,” retorts Biggie.

With age, Tommy is said to be increasingly becoming “choosy” when it comes to his diet, probably a development that could be his secret to longevity.

One of his favourite foods now is sadza, Zimbabwe’s staple food, and salads.

“The salads must have bananas if you want Tommy to enjoy his meal. He also enjoys sadza and some selected fruits. He no longer eats grass much like he used to do,” says Biggie.

Weighing over 500 kilogrammes and an average length of 152 centimetres, Tommy spends the greater part of his day relaxed on the lawn and at dusk,he remembers to crawl into his bedroom for a rest into yet another day.

To determine the oldest living animal is one of the biggest mysteries scientists have been trying to unravel for a very long time but it would be fascinating if scientists were to unravel the origins and actual age of Tommy.

According to online sources, tortoises are one of the land animals gifted with longevity and Adwaita, a tortoise that lived in India’s Alipore Zoo, is the official world‘s oldest animal to have survived for 250 years.

Adwaita is said to have lived in the 1700s, when he was captured in the Seychelles Islands before being given to British general Robert Clive of the East India Company. Clive kept Adwaita as a pet before the tortoise was donated to the zoo in 1875.

For more than 125 years, it lived in the same zoo enclosure until it passed away in 2006. Adwaita’s shell was then carbonated to confirm his age.

But the current record holder for the longest living land animal is again a tortoise named Jonathan. Also from the Seychelles Islands, Jonathan, according to online sources, was brought from his island home to the UK in 1882 and since then has been housed in St Helena, where he has lived through 37 US presidents starting with Andrew Jackson.

Jonathan’s life span is also said to have so far spanned through eight British monarchs, starting with George IV and 52 prime ministers.

But animal enthusiasts will have to wait a while for the shell of Zimbabwe’s ageless Tommy to ascertain his actual age.   Zimpapers Syndication.

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