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Nigeria’s royal tortoise said to have lived to the age of 344 in Oyo state

Nigeria’s royal tortoise said to have lived to the age of 344 in Oyo state

A royal palace in Nigeria has announced that its resident tortoise has died following a short illness, saying it was a remarkable 344 years old.

The tortoise, named Alagba, meaning elderly one, lived in the palace of Ogbomoso in Oyo state.

BBC Yoruba’s Abdulwasiu Hassan said Alagba had at least two personal attendants to see to her needs and would eat only twice a month.

She was thought to have healing powers and attracted visitors from far and wide.

The revered reptile was apparently brought to the palace by the kingdom’s third leader, Isan Okumoyede, who reigned from 1770 to 1797.

However, Isan Okumoyede reigned just over 200 years ago. This means the tortoise would have already been 100 when she was found, for her to have reached the grand old age of 344.

Map showing location of Oyo

And reptile experts have cast doubt on Alagba’s alleged age.

Tim Skelton, curator of reptiles at Bristol Zoo, said it would be « impossible » for Alagba to have lived that long.

‘Unlikely in the extreme’

« A hundred years is a very good age, » said Mr Skelton. « Giant tortoises can live up to 200, but that’s a very rare exception. »

Alagba is not a giant tortoise. After looking at photos, Mr Skelton categorised Alagba as an African spur-thighed tortoise.

John Wilkinson, a professional herpetologist – an expert in reptiles – agreed.

« I would have thought that it would be unlikely in the extreme, » he said. « They just don’t live that long. »

Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise - believed to be the oldest living being on earthImage copyrightGIANLUIGI GUERCIA
Image captionJonathan is believed to be the oldest animal on earth

The oldest tortoise – indeed animal – in the world is believed to be Jonathan, an 187-year-old giant tortoise who lives in St Helena.

« Any other tortoise lives between 70-80 years old, maximum 100, » Mr Skelton said.

 
Media captionIs this the oldest tortoise in the world?

So where did Alagba come from?

The story goes that she was brought to the palace by Isan Okumoyede, when he returned from a successful expedition over 200 years ago.

If this is true, Alagba will have lived through the reign of 18 Ogbomoso kings.

Two children and men with the tortoiseImage copyrightPEACE SOJAY AND HIS FAMILY
Image captionPeople used to pray with the tortoise
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Mr Wilkinson has a simple explanation: « I don’t think there’s much of a mystery here to be honest – there has been more than one tortoise. »

« They loved it so much they went and bought another one. »

And it seems as though this is not the end of Alagba’s story. The current king said he plans to preserve her remains for tourism and historical records.