Category Archives: Celebrity Animals

5 Celebrity Tortoises

1. I wonder how many tortoises over the course of time have been called Timothy? It’s probably up there with Speedy for unoriginal names. Thank goodness for Stella who gave me the much more original name of Herbert. Anyway, this particular Timothy was the companion of the pioneering English naturalist Gilbert White (inherited from his aunt) and was mentioned frequently in the letters Gilbert wrote and later published as the History of Selborne. Verlyn Klinkenborg later rewrote the story of Timothy from his point of view in Notes from an Abject Reptile, a book I probably should have mentioned when I wrote this blog about books with animal narrators. I wouldn’t want readers to think that tortoises are mainly abject; I consider myself to be rather joyous, despite it all.

2. It was a sad day back in June when Lonesome George toppled off his mortal coil. Over a hundred years old, he was the last known individual of his Galapagos-island subspecies, despite the search for a mate for him – a $10,000 reward was even offered to anyone who could procure a suitable partner. I will admit to shedding a tear. He will be embalmed though so future generations can see him. He is a potent and important symbol of conservation. His species’ downfall was the result of the introduction of ravenous goats to Pinta Island where he and his family had evolved and lived. And it wasn’t the goats who were to blame.

3. We don’t know this tortoise’s name, but Oscar Wilde was a fan of a chap called JK Huysmans, a novelist and aestheticist – that is, mainly concerned with beauty. Wilde loved his novel À Rebours (Against the Grain) featuring a chap called Montesquiou who some speculate was inspiration for Dorian Gray. Montesquiou waged a crusade on behalf of beauty yet was known for personal acts of extraordinary viciousness. He had an emerald-encrusted tortoise, which in À Rebours dies as a result of its heavy burden of brilliant baubles. No tortoises have been harmed in the writing of this post.

4. Back to the Galapagos for the moment, the location where the pieces of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution fell into place and where he met Harriet. Darwin took Harriet home to England on the Beagle and then later she went to Australia where she died at the grand old age of 175. Sounds impressive? Adwaita, a Seychellois tortoise was estimated to live for 255 years! I remember when Stella told me about Tu’i Malila, a Malagasy radiated tortoise gifted to the Tongans by Captain Cook and I thought that sounded like an awfully long time.

5. This is Bowser. He’s a cartoon villain from Nintendo’s Mario video games franchise. He’s Mario’s archenemy and wants to marry Princess Peach and rule the Mushroom Kingdom. This all sounds eminently reasonable to me. His original inspiration was an ox, but he came out looking more like a tortoise. He lives in a castle and this is the kind of thing people say about him:

He’s focused, he’s dedicated, and worst of all, he’s patient.


I’d like to be a celebrity tortoise. I came close once when I was on the stage at Brixton Academy. I have had a book written about me. Well, it’s sort of about me. I tell the story anyway. Really it’s about Ollie and Stella. You can read it now – it’s available from Amazon just here.