Wednesday 30 January 2013

The tortoise that outilved Clive

One of the pioneering British soldiers who played a pivotal role in establishing British supremacy in India was Robert Clive. The son of a Shropshire Squire in England, he rose from the ranks to command the British Army and set the English on course to rule India.
Clive later became an opium addict and committed suicide in 1774 at the age of 49. More than two hundred years later, one of Clive’s pet died in India in 2006. Unbelievable? Read on. 
Clive had settled down in a beautiful villa at Latbagan in Barrackpore near Calcutta. He had several pets and one among them was a male Aldabra Giant Tortoise.  
This tortoise was a gift to Clive from the British sailors who captured the animal from the Seychelles Islands. Clive had four such tortoises in his villa. While three of them had died, the one he named as Adwaita had survived.
Nobody knows why the tortoise was named Adwaitha. All we know is that it was pet he treasured and he left behind when he went back to England.  
Carl Louis Schwendler, the founder of the Alipore Zoo in Calcutta, transferred the tortoise to the zoo in 1875. Adwaita lived in a enclosure in the zoo until its death in 2006.
It weighed 250 kilograms (550 lb) and it was a bachelor with no records of his progeny. Though he was huge, he lived on a simple diet of wheat bran, carrots, lettuce, soaked gram, bread, grass and salt. He was a loner and when he died he was the world’s oldest bachelor.
He died in March 2006 after his shell cracked and a wound developed. By then, he had also developed liver infection. At the time of his death, Adwaitha was one of the longest living animals in the world.
Generally, Aldabra tortoises are found in the Aldabra atoll of Seychelles. It is today a world heritage site with about 1.6 lakhs such tortoises.These animals are similar in size to the Galapagos Giant tortoises.
The average weight of a male is around 250 kilograms (550 lb). Females are generally smaller than males, with average specimens measuring 90 centimetres (35 in) in length and weighing 150 kilograms (330 lb).
Adwaita died at the age of  255. This makes it the oldest tortoise of modern times, living longer than Harriet by 80 years, and Tu’i Malila by 67 years.
Harriet, a 176-year-old Galapagos tortoise, lives at the Australia Zoo north of Brisbane. She was taken from the island of Isla Santa Cruz by Charles Darwin in the 19th century.
Though Clive is long dead and gone, his legacy continues to live in Kolkata and elsewhere. His estate was at Barrackpore and it can still be seen. The Fort William here was commissioned by Clive  and it is still  one of the best preserved forts in India. The fort is used by the Army and entry is restricted.

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