Adwaita, who spent almost half his life at Alipore zoo
Adwaita, the grand old inmate of Alipore zoo who died aged 256 this month eight years ago, has someone coming all the way from the Seychelles to fill his big shoes…er…shell.
At 20-plus, the two Aldabra giant tortoises headed for the city are still the toddlers of the Testudinidae family and can be counted on to live for at least another 170 years, zoo officials said.
The pair are a gift from James Alix Michel, the president of the Republic of Seychelles, and will arrive at the zoo “within the next few weeks” to set up home thousands of miles away from where they were born.
Aldabra giant tortoises get their name from Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles and are the heavyweights of the clan. An adult male can weigh up to 250kg and a female up to 175kg.
Michel apparently decided to gift a pair after hearing about Adwaita from an aide of former President Pratibha Patil during a visit to the island nation.
“The envoy had referred to Adwaita to highlight the old ties between India and Seychelles. Michel was amused to hear that and promised to gift a pair of the same species to Alipore zoo,” recounted an official of the forest and wildlife department who was privy to the formalities.
Adwaita, a Sanskrit name meaning “one and only”, was born in 1750 and one of four Aldabra giant tortoises believed to have been brought by some British sailors from the Seychelles and gifted to Robert Clive of the East India Company.
The story goes that Adwaita lived alone in a large garden for 125 years before being shifted to Alipore zoo in 1875, but his status as a life member of the lonely hearts’ club didn’t change.
“Adwaita would always look up when you called out his name but he hardly moved,” recalled Subir Chowdhury, a former director of Alipore zoo.
While Adwaita had nobody to go through life in slow motion with, the male and female pair being brought to the zoo will have each other for company in a new enclosure.
“Seychelles had offered us one tortoise but we requested for two, preferably a male and a female,” a zoo official said.
In true tortoise tradition, the process of getting diplomatic clearance to bring the duo to Calcutta from the Seychelles took a long time. A process that had started in November 2012 was completed early this month when the foreign affairs, environment and foreign trade departments granted the necessary permissions.
“We are now eagerly awaiting the arrival of the tortoises,” zoo director Kanai Lal Ghosh told Metro.
The duo will be quarantined on arrival, as is the recommended practice for any animal brought from another country.
The quarantine period ranges between 21 and 30 days, meant to ensure that an animal brought from a different environment is fit to be kept in the vicinity of other wildlife.
Alipore zoo isn’t required to give away any animal in exchange because the tortoises have been gifted. The zoo only has to pay for air passage.