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No, photo not of 344-year-old tortoise that died at Nigerian palace

Is a photo posted on Facebook of a 344-year-old tortoise that recently died at a royal palace in Nigeria?

The photo shows a huge tortoise behind three much smaller ones, two of them quite tiny.

“A 344 year old tortoise popularly known as ALAGBA in the palace of the Soun of Ogbomoso has passed on,” the caption reads. “The scared [sacred] tortoise which was the oldest in Africa, was sick for a few days before her demise on Thursday.”

The 3 October 2019 post has been shared more than 1,700 times. The regional monarch’s palace at Ogbomosho is in southwestern Nigeria.

The story has also appeared on the community platform of Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper.

Is the large tortoise in the photo Alagba, the oldest tortoise in Africa who died aged 344 at the Ogbomosho palace? 

Thankfully, we don’t need an eyewitness from 1675 to find out. 

Galapagos tortoises hatched in Australia

A reverse image search reveals that the photo is at least five years old.

We found it on an April 2014 article on the Daily Telegraph, an Australian newspaper. It reported that two Galapagos tortoises had hatched at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, a city in south-west Australia.

The hatchlings, the two tiny tortoises in the foreground of the photo, were then three months old. The slightly larger tortoise was, according to the article, three years old. The huge tortoise was fully grown, but its age was not reported. 

An undated press release from the Taronga zoo said the two hatchlings were born on 24 and 26 January 2014.

The baby tortoises’ story was also reported in other Australian media outlets and by Zooborns, a US-based website that posts photos of animals recently born in zoos around the world.

Large tortoise in his 50s

Africa Check asked the Taronga Western Plains Zoo if the huge tortoise in the photo was theirs. 

“Yes, this photograph was taken by Taronga Western Plains Zoo of our Galapagos tortoise. All the tortoises pictured are still alive,” zoo spokesperson Mandy Turner told us.

“The larger tortoise in the photo is in its 50s. They can live up to 150 years. At full stretch they are approximately 1 metre to the top of the head and this male weighs almost 300 kilograms.”

Reports of tortoise death at Ogbomosho

According to the BBC, a 344-year-old tortoise was reported to have died at a royal palace in Nigeria.

But the article questioned the animal’s given age.

It quotes Tim Skelton, the curator of reptiles and amphibians at the Bristol Zoo in the UK, as saying it would have been “impossible” for the tortoise to have lived that long. 

“Giant tortoises can live up to 200, but that's a very rare exception,” Skelton told the BBC

Another expert in amphibians and reptiles, John Wilkinson, speculated that an older tortoise named Alagba was replaced with a younger one at some point. 

“I don't think there's much of a mystery here to be honest – there has been more than one tortoise,” the BBC quotes Wilkinson as saying. “They loved it so much they went and bought another one.” – Vincent Ng’ethe 


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