Janus the two-headed tortoise turns 25
Geneva, Switzerland, Sep 3 (EFE).- Janus, the two-headed tortoise and star of the Natural History Museum of Geneva who was named after the Roman god with two faces, turned 25 years old Saturday.
A quarter of a century is an unusual age for an animal with that condition, and the Swiss institution celebrated the milestone with several events in homage to the tortoise.
The celebrations began early in the morning, when the two caregivers who watch over the chelonian’s health every day, after the usual shower with warm water, treated Janus to a more varied breakfast than usual and an edible bouquet of flowers.
“Normally he can’t eat very sweet things, but today we offered him this gift,” one of the two caregivers, Colombian-born, Swiss-based Angelica Maria Castaño, who also helped Janus eat part of the fruit salad they had prepared for her with strawberry, watermelon and mango, told Efe.
The feast, which included lettuce and sweet carrots, was limited, because Janus has been carefully monitored since he was born, and even more so since he was went under the knife for a bladder stone two years ago, when the veterinarian prohibited him from eating foods rich in oxalates such as spinach or parsley.
“He fully recovered from the operation, but we have to take good care of him because although she has two mouths she only has two kidneys. The diet must be very controlled,” said the caretaker.
Janus was born in the museum’s facilities on September 3, 1997, when he hatched from one of the eggs that a private individual had taken to the institution’s incubators, a male tortoise of the Greek subspecies (testudo graeca), present throughout the Mediterranean and commonly kept as a domestic pet.
“The birth of specimens with two heads or two limbs is relatively common among snakes and tortoises, but they don’t usually live long after birth,” explained the museum’s director, Arnaud Maeder.
The main hurdle for survival in the wild is that it cannot retract its two heads into its shell, depriving it of its main method of defense in case of threat; moreover, if it accidentally flips over, it is very difficult for it to turn back, and it can die from suffocation in that position.
But at the Geneva museum, with the help of a diet, exercise and medical care regime adapted to her condition, Janus has managed to break every record and become the oldest two-headed tortoise known to man.
His species – with one head – can live up to half a century in the wild, although in captivity some specimens have managed to exceed 100 years.
The museum hopes that Janus’ popularity might help to raise awareness of the excessive exploitation of the Greek tortoise and others used as domestic pets, as it is estimated that as many as 10 million of them may have been illegally exported in the last century.
“It is also a good opportunity to remember that of the more than 300 species of tortoise in the world, 60% are in danger of extinction, an even higher percentage in the case of marine tortoises,” Maeder told Efe. EFE