RAPID CITY — South Dakota's oldest resident has passed away. Methuselah, the 130-year-old giant tortoise and long-time resident at Reptile Gardens, in Rapid City, died from apparent complications of old age on Sunday.
“It is a sad day, not only for Reptile Gardens, but for the millions of visitors who have seen Methuselah, petted him and taken pictures of him over the past 56 years,” said CEO Joe Maierhauser.
The 500-pound Galapagos tortoise first came to Reptile Gardens in 1954, long before they were listed as an endangered species. Some of the Reptile Gardens senior management, including Maierhauser and Public Relations Director John Brockelsby, have known Methuselah their entire lives.
“Methuselah was probably one of the most photographed animals in America,” Brockelsby said. “It's not uncommon for three generations of the same family to tell us they've all had photos taken with Methuselah as a child.”
“We celebrated Methuselah's 130th birthday just a month ago,” Brockelsby said. “We fed him his favorite food, watermelon. To Methuselah, that's like having a hot fudge sundae would be to a kid.”
The giant tortoise originally came from the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. Brockelsby said that the tortoise may have been the last one taken from the islands before they became protected.
Reptile Gardens acquired him in the fall of 1954 when he was already 73.
Brockelsby said Methuselah was the “best known and most beloved animal resident here at Reptile Gardens. We still have two other giant tortoises, but specimens as old as Methuselah are very rare and even harder to acquire.” He said giant tortoises do often live to be more than 100 years old, but 130 is considered quite long-in-the-tooth even for these animals.
The reptile park's two other giant tortoises, Quazi and Tank, are from the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean.
“They're just youngsters,” Brockelsby said. “They are only in their 60s.”
The estimated cost to replace a tortoise as old and large as Methuselah, even if that were possible, would be in the neighborhood of $85,000 or more.
“He will be greatly missed by our visitors and staff,” Brockelsby added.
A tribute to the giant tortoise will be planned later.