Worlds Oldest Gopher Tortoise Turns 85 on June 10

first_imgLike Madonna, Cher or Prince, he needs only one name. It’s Gus and if you haven’t heard of him, you are either new to Halifax or have been living in a bubble for the past 60 years. Gus is the gopher tortoise who is older than any of the museum staff or exhibits at the Museum of Natural History in Halifax, his home for more than six decades. The popular senior citizen turns 85 on June 10, and will be honoured with a party at the museum from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. that will include GUSing games, stories and, of course, cake and turtle-shaped cookies. Ray Ashton of the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative, Ashton Biodiversity Research and Preservation, in Florida is impressed by Gus’s longevity. “Since scientists discovered that we cannot definitively tell the age of a turtle or tortoise by the rings on their scales, one could say that Gus is the oldest documented living gopher tortoise in North America and, most likely, the world,” said Mr. Ashton, who next week will rescue 1,000 tortoises from being crushed at development in Jacksonville, Fla. Gus was purchased in a Florida reptile shop in the early 1940s by a former museum director for about $5. The director also bought an indigo snake and an alligator to display at the museum. “Although gopher tortoises are not presently CITES listed (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), export permits are required,” said museum zoologist Andrew Hebda. “This, however, was not the case in the 1940s.” John Augustus Gilhen, curator emeritus with the museum, was first introduced to Gus in 1952 at the old Science Museum on Spring Garden Road in Halifax. “I was a museum kid back then, with my head buried in field guides, when I was asked to help out with feeding the snakes and turtles,” Gilhen said. “Each day I would feel a tapping on my toe only to look down and see Gus who wanted lettuce.” Gus was adult size in 1952, meaning he likely hatched sometime between 1920 and 1925. That would make 82 to 87 years old. “Five years ago, on his 80th birthday, we decided to split this difference so Gus turns 85 this year,” said Gilhen. “Gopher tortoises are one of four tortoises that live in the warmer, dryer climates of North America,” said Ashton. “Gus came from Florida where the tortoises are soon to be listed as threatened; a critical designation for the survival of this species in the wild.” Gus is a vegetarian. His well-planned diet includes only the best of organic lettuce, bananas, local strawberries, blueberries, dandelion greens, tomatoes and blackberries, which he particularly enjoys. When Gus wants a walk, he summons museum staff by scratching on the side of his home. In summer, Gus heads straight out the doors to the museum’s pesticide-free lawns where he chomps clover and grass. Following closely behind is a “pied piper” line of kids. Gus has charmed the hearts of three generations of children. “They simply adore him,” said Janet Maltby, museum manager. “There have been thousands of love letters and drawings given to Gus over the years. We can’t keep them all, but we do have a box full of ‘I Love You Gus’ notes.” Gus has always been full of adventure, too. Thirty years ago, he went missing for almost a year. The kidnappers were never identified and one day Gus simply reappeared, roaming the museum halls. On another occasion, he disappeared behind a wall for months without food and water. There was also an escape and Gus was found heading toward the Public Gardens some two blocks away. He’s even been offered female companionship, which he ignored. Gus can drop names, too, if he wanted. He’s met Vincent Price, a president of Iceland, William H. Macy and wife Felicity Hoffman, Gordie Howe and Kate Beckinsale, to name a few. He was a regular guest on the CBC children’s show Switchback with Stan the Man in the 1980s. His national debut was on CBC TV Mid-day, and he even joined CTVs Vicki Gabereau Live show with Bruce Guthro, Mary Walsh and Lorna Smith. A list of fans and accomplishments truly worthy of the world’s oldest gopher tortoise, especially one whose popularity with young people never seems to go out of style.last_img read more