Halifax’s famous hard-shelled celebrity spent his 99th birthday doing what he does best: chowing down on some grass in the backyard of the Museum of Natural History.
“He loves grasses and clovers. He loves dandelions and dandelion greens,” said Mary Grant, the museum’s curator of interpretation.
So, it’s always exciting when he can have the first fresh dandelions from outside of the season.”
Gus is a Gopher Tortoise, and is believed to have been born in the 1920s in the state of Florida.
He made his way to Halifax in the 1940s after the museum director at the time scooped him up for $5 at a roadside attraction in the state.
“It was a normal practice for museum directors to travel around and gather artifacts and specimens from around the world and bring them back to the museums,” said Jeff Gray, the museum’s curator of visitor experiences and exhibits.
Gray says the first few years of his life inside the museum were met with little fanfare until the staff began formally celebrating his birthday.
Gus’ popularity has been on the rise ever since.
“His 58th birthday was the first time that the museum actually celebrated it as an event. And, then I think over certainly the 50 years that he has been here on site, he’s one of the first things that people see when they come into the museum and one of the last things that people see when they leave the museum,” he said.
Grant says Gus’s museum lifestyle may be part of the reason behind his longevity in comparison to his Gopher Tortoise counterparts in the wild.
“They’re a species at risk in Florida because of habitat destruction. It’s cars, land development, and because they dig underground. So, their life expectancy may not be as long in the wild,” Grant said.
People can enjoy visiting Gus and other exhibits at the Museum of Natural History for free until the end of August.
“Every day he does go out for a walk at 3 o’clock. Visitors to the museum can interact with our interpretive staff, ask questions about Gus and certainly get a chance to see him up close,” Gray said.