November 23, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
54°F
test

UPDATE: Mary the turtle gets a new name — Terry

CLEVELAND — Slow and worry-free, it’s doubtful Mary came unglued after finding out she is actually a “he.”

After all, Mary doesn’t have many stressors in her, uh, his life.

Mary emerges from the water at her — uh, his — zoo home.

Mary emerges from the water at her — uh, his — zoo home.

“She’s very deliberate … she keeps a careful pace,” Cleveland Metroparks Zoo spokesman Tom O’Konowitz said Tuesday after word went out that zoo officials and handlers had mistakenly believed for 50-plus years that the massive land tortoise was a female.

A routine physical exam earlier in the month revealed the tortoise was in fact a male.

“This is definitely a first for us,” O’Konowitz said. “It came as something of a surprise to finally figure out Mary’s true identity. It took us 55 years to finally say she’s a boy.”

O’Konowitz said Wednesday that the zoo has decided to rename the tortoise “Terry.”

Terry is one of three Aldabra tortoises that arrived at the zoo in 1955 from the Aldabra Island off the east coast of Africa.

“They were wild tortoises at the time, and the zoo didn’t know their exact age,” O’Konowitz said.

Each of the trio has since been determined to be 75 to 100 years old.

Because “she” had a flatter shell, shorter tail and weighed around 400 pounds (male Aldabras tend to be beefier), the tortoise was assumed to be a female.

“With some species like elephants, gorillas and rhinos, it’s very obvious whether you’re dealing with a male or female,” O’Konowitz said.

Other species, including fish and tortoises, are tougher to differentiate.

“Mary weighed the least of the three, which was one external indicator that led us to believe she was a girl,” O’Konowitz said. “These tortoises are massive. They’re arguably the largest land tortoises on earth.”

The big shock came during a physical by zoo vets that conclusively revealed Terry was not female. Reproductive organs of such big tortoises, which bear similarities to those of humans, are typically not visible during such exams.

But “in this case, they became visible to the staff,” O’Konowitz said.

“We’ve had plenty of name-the-baby-animal contests before, but this could be the first re-naming contest,” O’Konowitz said Tuesday before the zoo settled on the new name Terry.

Terry and his two male cohorts will continue their relaxed, unhurried way of life — oblivious to the controversy swirling around them.

“One of my favorite things about them is the way they seem to love their vegetables,” O’Konowitz said. “They’re very deliberate and very slow when they chew. And they just bask in their mud wallows outside.”

Among the zoo’s more popular creatures, the tortoises draw many parents and grandparents who saw them as children and are now sharing the experience with their children and grandchildren.

Not on display for the winter, the Aldabras are spending their time in the zoo’s newer hospital building complete with heated floors and natural lighting while construction continues on the new $25 million elephant exhibit.

“They can live to be well over 100, so we’re hopeful they’ll be here for many years to come,” O’Konowitz said.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.