Yet he never told the younger tortoises to get off his lawn.

By Chad Taylor
July 16, 2021
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giant turtle eating grass
Credit: MyImages Micha / Getty

Schurli, the longest-serving resident of the Tiergarten Schönbrunn zoo in Vienna, Austria, has died at an estimated age of 130 years.

The zoo announced the sad news of his passing on July 11, marking the end of an era for the zoo and the departure of a friend who had been a lifelong fixture for thousands of zoo patrons. Born on an atoll in the Seychelles islands, Schurli was an Aldabra giant tortoise, the second largest species of tortoise on the planet.

"Many zoo visitors knew him for almost forever," zoologist Anton Weissenbacher said in a press release. "His exact age was not known, but it was at least 130 years."

Hunted extensively through the 17th and 18th centuries for their shells and oil in their flesh, Aldabra tortoises are currently a protected species, and the island of Mauritius is home to an extensive breeding program for wild Aldabra tortoises. Since the early 20th century, zoos have also served an important part in keeping the species alive, and Schurli was one of the most steadfast examples of those efforts, having come to the Austrian capital in 1953. He may not have gained viral fame courtesy of his eating habits and a TikTok-savvy owner, but Schuli has been his zoo's only constant over a whopping 68 years.

What It Actually Means to Have Lived 130 Years

You probably don't need me to tell you that 130 years is a long time to do anything, but assuming an 1890 birthdate for Schurli, here are some of the things this tortoise lived to see:

  • The dawning of two centuries
  • The evolution of flight from balloons to zeppelins to airplanes to space travel
  • The development of long-distance communication from Morse code to email
  • 24 U.S. presidents, 32 U.K. prime ministers, six British monarchs, and every Austrian chancellor
  • The entirety of the Chicago Cubs 108-year World Championship drought
  • The invention of sliced bread
  • The sinking—and subsequent rediscovery 73 years later—of the Titanic
  • Both World Wars
  • The rise and fall of the Berlin Wall
  • The creation of eight U.S. States and 119 sovereign nations

Schuli was probably aware of none of those things, living happily on his sandy atoll, and munching greens in the zoo. But over that span he saw scores of zookeepers, volunteers, and veterinarians; hundreds of other animals; and an uncountable number of smiling faces, young and old, as they paraded by his habitat every day. Sad as the occasion is, zookeepers (and anyone who saw The Lion King) know that Schuli's passing is an unavoidable part of the circle of life. Zoos welcome new baby animals to the world every year, and saying goodbye to older animals is the other side of that coin.

Now that Schuli has moved on to the Great Tortoise Enclosure in the Sky, that leaves Menschik, another Aldabra tortoise, as the oldest resident in the zoo. Much like Schuli, Menshik's age is not known exactly, but the zoo describes him as "slightly younger" than Schuli. Aren't we all.