SD Zoo tortoise ‘Speed’ dies, 150-plus years
Some great legacies are short-lived, with perhaps little purpose.
And then there are the few that dictate the survival of a species.
“Speed,” a Galapagos tortoise brought to San Diego from the Galapagos Islands in 1933, died Friday at the San Diego Zoo.
Speed — also known as No. 5 at the zoo — arrived in San Diego as part of an effort to preserve the species from the Volcan Cerro Azul Island of the Galapagos, a province 600 miles west of Ecuador.
He was estimated to be between 150 and 160 years old, said Jonny Carlson, who has been the primary caregiver of Galapagos tortoises at the zoo for 2 1/2 years.
The San Diego Zoo staff worked tirelessly to keep him alive, using methods like hydrotherapy, acupuncture, medications and physical therapy.
“He had some severe arthritis, and it just came down to a quality of life question,” Carlson said Friday. “We’ve been wrestling with that for a couple months now. (Euthanization) was what we decided on because there was no fixing the problem. It was a matter of easing his pain.”
Speed was not only a celebrity of sorts at the San Diego Zoo, he was also one the patriarchs for a species that has often frequented the endangered species list — as they were once hunted for food.
During his life at the zoo, Speed was part of a breeding program that resulted in the births of 90 tortoises, Carlson said.
Galapagos tortoises are considered to be giants in the tortoise world, with males often weighing more than 500 pounds and females around 250 pounds.
Speed was a giant in his own right, being one of the most popular residents of the zoo’s Galapagos tortoise habitat.
Giant tortoises were first put under the protection of the Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Foundation in 1959.
In 1977, the San Diego Zoo, as part of its partnership with the Charles Darwin Foundation, returned a giant male tortoise — Diego, an Española Island tortoise — for breeding. According to the zoo, he single-handedly fathered 1,700 tortoises.
This, in part, is the mission of the San Diego Zoo: To bring species back from the brink of extinction.
There are now 13 Galapagos tortoises at the zoo, with four total breeding groups.
Despite No. 5’s death, the zoo’s efforts to preserve the species march on — a little slower, perhaps, without Speed.