San Diego Zoo

Speed, the Galápagos tortoise (file photo)

We were saddened at last week’s news of the demise of the Galápagos tortoise “Speed,” who lived to 150 years, give or take a few.  The San Diego Zoo took him from the Cerro Azul volcano on Isabela Island in 1933 as part of an effort to preserve the tortoises there. During his time at the zoo, Speed was put into a breeding program that resulted in the births of 90 baby tortoises.

But time took its toll on the old boy.  The zoo’s primary caregiver of Galápagos tortoises for the last 2 1/2 years, Jonny Carlson, said that Speed was in so much pain that the decision was made to euthanize him.

“He had some severe arthritis, and it just came down to a quality of life question,” Carlson told the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper on 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.”

The newspaper reported that before the decision was made to euthanize Speed, the San Diego Zoo staff had worked tirelessly to keep him alive, using methods like hydrotherapy, acupuncture, medications and physical therapy.

Thirteen Galápagos tortoises remain at the zoo in four breeding groups. In 1977, the zoo, as part of its partnership with the Galápagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation, sent a giant male tortoise — Diego, an Española Island tortoise — to Santa Cruz Island for breeding. According to the zoo, he single-handedly fathered 1,700 tortoises, earning him the nickname “Super Diego.”