Teddy the Tortoise

In its early days, the Bronx Zoo received many animals as donations. In 1914, the Bronx Zoo received an animal gift that stands out today as it was from a former President of the United States. On March 26th, the zoo became home to Teddy, a Brazilian giant tortoise, and the gift of Theodore Roosevelt.

Teddy was originally found in Southern Brazil by Roosevelt and his companions during the Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition of 1913-1914 (known for the infamous journey down the River of Doubt). During that journey, Roosevelt decided to gift the tortoise to the Wildlife Conservation Society, so Teddy made the trip to New York. Roosevelt did not name the tortoise after himself. The team in Brazil originally named him Lizzie. When Lizzie got to the Bronx, the zoo noticed he was a male, in large part to his very concave lower shell, and renamed him Teddy to honor his donor.

Teddy’s large size was of note when he first arrived at the Bronx Zoo, and the length of his 22-inch shell made him the Bronx Zoo’s largest South American tortoise. Although Teddy’s age was never known, by 1953, he was determined to be the zoo’s oldest resident.

Oliver, James A, “The Oldest Inhabitant of the Zoo,” Animal Kingdom 56, no. 3 (1953): 76-78.

This post is by Paula Cafiero, MA candidate, who worked during Fall 2019 with the WCS Archives as an Intern on our Photo Preservation Project.

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