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How Did a Tortoise Survive 30 Years in a Box?

By Richard Schiffman

Tortoises are famous for living to a ripe old age. One giant tortoise named Adwaita is said to have lived 255 years in the Calcutta Zoo—he finally died of liver failure in 2006.

But news of a tortoise that lived 30 years in a shed suggests that the survival skills of these hardy creatures may be even more astounding than we had imagined.

Red-footed tortoise picture
A red-footed tortoise (file picture). Photograph by Fabio Maffei, My Shot

A red-footed tortoise named Manuela mysteriously “disappeared” from a home in a suburb of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1982. The Almeida family assumed that their pet had lumbered out of the house after builders at the site left the front door ajar, according to Brazil’s Globo TV. (Watch turtle and tortoise videos.)

Recently, Leandro Almeida was cleaning out a storage shed and threw away an old wooden box. As he told Globo, “I put the box on the pavement for the rubbish men to collect, and a neighbor said, ‘You’re not throwing out the turtle as well are you?’ I looked and saw her. At that moment, I turned white, I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

The box contained an old record player and—seemingly miraculously—their long-lost tortoise, still alive after more than three decades.

“We’re all thrilled to have Manuela back,” Leandro’s sister, Lenita, who was given the tortoise as a childhood pet, told Globo. “But no one can understand how she managed to survive for 30 years in there—it’s just unbelievable.”

(Also see 405-Year-Old Clam Called Longest-Lived Animal.”)

How Did the Tortoise Survive?

Even the experts are stumped. Jeferson Peres, a Rio-based veterinarian, told Globo that red-footed tortoises have been known to go without eating for two to three years in the wild—but 30 years is off the known charts. He speculated that Manuela had survived by eating termites and other small insects and licking condensation.

Turtles also have reserve fat pads that they can draw on when food is scarce, Anthony Pilny, a veterinary surgeon and specialist in birds and reptiles at the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine in New York City, said by email.

Like snakes, turtles are able to go for long periods without eating. Wild turtles can also lower their body temperatures and other physiological processes and enter into temporary states of suspended animation from which they’re able to recover. However Pilny does not recommend that pet owners try this with their own turtles, since it is hard to replicate natural conditions at home. (Also see Lonesome George Not the Last of His Kind, After All?”)

As for Manuela, Pilny has some advice for the family. “They should go very slowly—start by warming her up and rehydrating Manuela before feeding … Give her warm water soaks and offer a small meal after she seems stable. Then take her to a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles for a checkup and some bloodwork.”

Red-footed Tortoises Require Lots of Care

In the dry forests and grasslands of South and Central America where they live, red-footed tortoises will consume virtually anything: fruits, flowers, leaves, dead animals—even feces.

They are also reputedly outgoing, curious about their surroundings, and enjoy having their heads rubbed. Moreover, red-footed tortoises have little fear of people, which is one reason they make such good pets.

But should we be keeping these wild creatures in our homes?

“Yes and no,” Pilny said.

Reptiles have specific nutritional needs, and they are more likely than other pets to suffer from a variety of captivity-induced problems and diseases. “Anyone who chooses to own a reptile must be committed fully,” he said, “or they should get a cat.”

Pilny also shared a survival story about his own red-eared slider water turtle, which somehow vanished one day from his tank.

“I looked everywhere, turned my apartment upside down, but to no avail. About three months later I was packing to move, and while cleaning out my bedroom closet, found him in a shoe buried in the back of the closet. He wasn’t responsive or moving, but didn’t look dead, so I dropped him in the tank. Nothing happened for a few minutes as he sank, but then he suddenly came alive and acted as if nothing had ever happened.

“True story!”

Comments

  1. saleen
    home
    October 22, 8:40 pm

    I really enjoyed it

  2. lanker pheldge
    not in a box
    September 27, 11:15 pm

    Sorry, but I’m not buying, and it sounds to me like the vet in NY was a little noncommittal himself.

  3. kika
    September 26, 1:05 am

    What a sad story if he was really in a box for 30 years. I would be crushed by the guilt.

  4. Nicky
    kent
    September 25, 2:13 am

    Come on peeps do you believe this…must be stupid!!

  5. animal by nature
    United States
    September 14, 5:55 pm

    WOW I REALLY LIKE YOUR STORY AND REALLY HOPE EVERYTHING WORKS OUT WITH MANNY, HE SEEMS LIKE A STRONG SURVIVOR….PLEASE KEEP THIS SIDE OF THE WORLD POSTED ON HIS ADJUSTMENT BACK TO CIVILIZATION. …………GOOD LUCK MANNY .AND WELCOME BACK…………!

  6. all knowing and slightly irked eye of god
    April 28, 9:46 pm

    Turtles know how to jail.

  7. Knifest Sharp
    USA
    January 9, 6:18 pm

    I own a Sulcata Tortoise and I always worry when he goes into his enclosure and doesn’t come out for a day or two. Giacomo is probably the best bud I’ve ever had. He teaches me so much about life. :D Really.

  8. melissa
    August 19, 2013, 11:58 pm

    I just read this because I just found my turtle in a closet after 90 days! there’s no way it had any water! if a turtle could live for 90 days without water…. well… who else could do that????? its a turtle miracle!!!

  9. nbl
    utah
    March 7, 2013, 8:15 pm

    chipswood1971, what do you mean ‘he was placed in the cornerstone of a building…’?

  10. udi
    Australia
    March 2, 2013, 12:50 am

    While this story is remarkable, I don’t see any reason not to believe it. Tortoises can live for long periods on very little food. There is nothing to say that it had no food or water or even that it was in the box for 30 years.

  11. charlene
    New York
    March 1, 2013, 12:34 pm

    just seeing people loving any kind of animals is refreshing GOD made repitles live unlike us who need, need, need,get by just by instinct and nature…no i don’t want to be a animal but i would love to have a dog…or maybe a cat…animals bring out the best in folk…

  12. Cris Miyahira
    Brazil
    February 28, 2013, 11:57 pm

    30 years… Hard to believe, huh? A tortoise going missing and reapears after several months is pretty common though. At least here in my country. Almost everybody who owns a turttle or a tortoise owns some stories like that too. I have a trio so, imagine my adventure!

  13. chipswood1971
    Georgetown, Tx.
    February 28, 2013, 6:46 pm

    The story of Old Rip being alive after 30 yrs. is true. He was placed in the cornerstone of a building in Eastland, Tx., and 30 yrs. later he was found alive, although he did die shortly after being found. I believe the story of Manuela, mostly because A) reptiles (turtles) are known to go into a sleep like state for long periods of time, and with very little movement, who are we to say the turtle couldn’t live on eating mites, bugs and condensation off the box?, B) just because we are at the top of the food chain doesn’t mean we know all things about creatures that have been here a lot longer than we have., C) of everybody that has replied so far, none of us has seen the box the turtle was found in. Even though it was apparently tall enough to hold a record player, over time and possibly being wet, a corner of the box may have split open enough for her to crawl in at some point. Only God and the turtle know the truth, and I haven’t seen a comment from either of them so far.

  14. Navneeth Kumar
    INDIA
    February 28, 2013, 6:07 pm

    what a thing is it
    is it survival to the fittest or toughest of the survivals

    Creation of LORD is of unknown vast

  15. maria
    Uruguay
    February 28, 2013, 5:27 pm

    I think it’s very weird for an animal to stay without water, food and sunlight under high temperaturas in Brazil….but I can’t assure it didn’t happen….. btw did it grow? how big was the box? I feel sorry for the tortoise and I think adults need to be responsable pet owners. You can’t give a child a pet without adult supervisión…If a tortoise walks away it’s because its “place” wasn’t safe enough. These things shouldn’t happen :(

  16. Barbara LeVasseur
    Nice,CA
    February 28, 2013, 1:53 pm

    My concern is that people will believe it is possible to have a tortoise for a pet and it can survive no matter how bad the care. This story misleads people. Tortoises love to hide in boxes. I have an old yellow foot and built a box/cave he loves. But he gets fed a varied diet daily and bathes in a shallow basin daily as well as gets to sun bath which he needs for his health. Fletcher is 30 and relatively old for a yellow foot tortoise. Turtles and tortoises are very different and so is their care. I don’t want people to assume that they can get a tortoise and it can survive long periods without great care, they will die.

  17. Catherine
    Los Angeles, CA
    February 28, 2013, 12:17 pm

    I believe this story because our red-eared slider turtle escaped. We looked everywhere but couldn’t find him. A year and a half later, he showed up in my neighbor’s flower bed, weak but alive. A turtle expert told us that turtles need to be in water to eat. So it seems he lived a year and a half without eating. These guys are survivors.

  18. truetruetrue
    February 9, 2013, 5:31 pm

    i think it probably real because the tortoise can survive the dinosaur extinction anyway………
    without food, water and sunlight for 30 years to tortoise
    said “i want stay that box for 70 years!!!!”

  19. davnjay
    texas
    February 9, 2013, 5:11 pm

    i once caugh a fish —————————————————————————————————————————————————–this big! and when i was reeling it in… NESSIE!!yes the loc ness Nessie took it off the hook and ate it.. then shite jonah.. it was a whale that ate him it was Nessie!!! as gawd is my witness this is true.innit

  20. tortoise rescue
    Malibu
    February 7, 2013, 9:07 pm

    Sounds like pure bull*** to me. That animal would be shriveled up and have metabolic bone disease from no sun.

  21. Andree Geochelone Carbonaria
    Canada
    February 7, 2013, 8:17 pm

    I think the comment, I absolutely love, and think it is true..
    is by Bunny Bunny, turtles may not run fast but they never give up.. A tank, a plower, a pusher, a stalwart..
    Tortoise life,, keep going.. a symbol of tenacity, but also of solitude.. each day, I understand the carapace more…

  22. Bunny Bunny
    Canada
    February 7, 2013, 12:12 am

    Turtles can’t run fast but they never give up.

  23. Jo Anne Mathews
    Albuquerque,,N!
    February 6, 2013, 12:02 pm

    My turtle story is about my red-ear slider I owned when I was about 9 years old. I kept it in bowl complete with rocks that made it easy for the turtle to get in and out of the water. The bowl always was kept on my dresser. One day the turtle was gone. I looked for it through out my room. I did not find it. It was months later while moving my furniture I found it. It was stuck behind the dresser and the wall. The turtle looked dead. I took the turtle to the bathroom sink turned on the water. Slowly it came back. As a young child I dont know what made me realize he could still be alive. This started my love for all turles and tortises. Living in southwest I have found turtles in the desert. My bucket list includes the Galopogos islands. I believe the other stories of the found turtles to be true because I know the excitement when you find your long lost pet ALIVE?

  24. Andree Geochelone Carbonaria
    February 6, 2013, 2:21 am

    Geochelone Carbonaria, are often consumed on fridays, in certain parts of Brazil, since they are often considerred as a fish ( product.) and thereore in many countries it is not a meat day,, therefore Friday, is recorded as a fish day, for many..

  25. Andree Geochelone Carbonaria
    February 6, 2013, 2:12 am

    I happen to agree with all of you…A tortoise is a survivor, and definitely found a way to get in and out, of her box.
    They are strong, and forrage for their food.
    They have good home, zooming methods, and seem to always come back to their comfort homes…. But only after a good meal, and absolutely after a drink…
    I approve your justification..
    But tortoise Carbonari, only grows when well fed and..
    so,, will not sit and wait …Do you wish me to prove it,..The proof is tell, tail,…..tracking..and paper towel confirmed,,

  26. Andree Geochelone Carbonaria
    February 5, 2013, 11:51 pm

    Tortoise, need absolute conditions to live, healthfully…
    and it is an absolute fact,, that all living beings need appropriate care, substance, water and conditions,, to continue to live. and medical supervision, if these conditions are not kept..
    Weight watching is not an issue for survival,, Eating and drinking is an ABSOLUTE REQUIREMENT..
    All of us need certain requirements,,, and your feedback, is part of my life…
    Enjoy!..

  27. Bob
    Virginia
    February 5, 2013, 11:43 pm

    Wow! Truly amazing. But then some people live for fifty or sixty years by sitting in a box called a cubicle in front of a computer all day, then going home to another “box” and sitting in front of a T.V. set or a computer. Then when they die, they put them in a box for good. The moral is “get out of the box!”

  28. Andree Geochelone Carbonaria
    February 5, 2013, 10:41 pm

    Ima Ryma, I loved your poem.. and I must say that after two days my red-foot tortoise, is ready to eat my toes,, when I take my shower with her,, she eats one mangoe, her pellet torotise food and her aragula lettuce, mushrooms, strawberries,,,, she would eat my toes if she was not fed EVERY DAY..and her heat lamp and her baths, twice a day, the humidifier,, and it is 35 below zero…. her care is very much monitored..and veterinarian controlled…
    iMA, I LOVED YOUR POEM… and your absolute way of telling us how much you care for animals…
    All my love to all of you.. and Ima, continue..
    Andree

  29. Andree Geochelone Carbonaria
    February 5, 2013, 10:25 pm

    Perhaps the tortoise found, was not actually, the initial tortoise….. An animal ,cannot survive without humidity, and nourishment.. and dedication….but tortoise are faithful to their home.. and return after a good meal…..
    An issue, and entry, and an exit… must have been available..
    Food and water is life….

  30. Andree Geochelone Carbonaria
    February 5, 2013, 10:17 pm

    In Montreal, I have heard, that a pet shop once lost a snake,, many years later, when the construction of the Eaton center began, construction workers, found a snake.. An engineer, was called.. a woman, I will not name..The snake had the identified markings, the owners identified the snake because of his markings…, many ,, many years..later.. The snake was properly identified.. and remember, Montreal, can get quite cold.. somehow, it had survived…
    and so have we, in some of the most difficult situations.
    I wish the DoDo bird had been so strong…

  31. scott
    indiana
    February 5, 2013, 7:44 pm

    just imagine how old he was and all the other people who have seen him

  32. Sylvia
    February 5, 2013, 6:24 pm

    I wonder how old the owners are?

  33. Jo Co
    highlands
    February 5, 2013, 2:50 pm

    That lady should be slapped for leaving a tortoise in a box for 30 years! Thats cruel!

  34. Surja Pradhan
    Hong Kong
    February 5, 2013, 9:28 am

    Every animal has its story. Whatever it s tiny or giant, they fight hard to survive in life. Consequently, as a human-being, we should respect the right of animal. After all, we r all crowded in our earth.

  35. Berndox
    Canada
    February 5, 2013, 4:16 am

    How do they know that it’s the same turtle???

  36. Laurie
    February 4, 2013, 10:49 pm

    this is as tall a tale as I have ever heard. Not possible.

  37. Lb
    Texas
    February 4, 2013, 1:55 pm

    Don’t know which is more unbelievable – turtle missing for 30 years or shed not cleaned for 30 years.

  38. kiprotich
    kenya
    February 4, 2013, 1:41 pm

    nevertheless,i think stories were rated accordingly:-this is an under-dog story in quest from point A (time it lost) to B (date of found).
    if i may ask after 30 years,its time to clean up a storage shed,why not all other years.

  39. Richard
    London
    February 4, 2013, 1:34 pm

    Inedia is a condition seen in Indian fakirs and the like who claim not to have eaten, drunk, passed urine or defecated for years and on occasion longer. Rupert Sheldrake has written of them in one of his books, possibly the Science Delusion. Corroborating evidence for sure but as in the case of this tortoise the actual facts can be elusive. Be that as it may Sheldrake, Cantab educated biochemist, believes some accounts are real.

  40. Abebe
    Ethiopia
    February 4, 2013, 1:14 pm

    OMG! It’s Surrprising new.

  41. Clair
    United States
    February 4, 2013, 12:57 pm

    I had a red eared slider and the can jump when they are motivated to do so.

  42. Reg
    Canada
    February 4, 2013, 12:46 pm

    I hope they eat this creature

  43. Willow
    Stillwater
    February 4, 2013, 12:36 pm

    So many skeptics and im not exactly sure if i buy it either but hey, who knows? Anything is possible.

  44. Willow
    12170
    February 4, 2013, 12:35 pm

    So many skeptics and i’m not exactly sure if i buy it either but hey, who knows? Anything is possible.

  45. Ariel Garcia
    February 4, 2013, 11:22 am

    If true its a very sad story and depends on what the bosx looks like

  46. platypus
    school
    February 4, 2013, 10:55 am

    i love turtles they are so cute they are my only friends
    love playtpus

  47. RS
    New York
    February 4, 2013, 8:23 am
  48. Cretius
    Canada
    February 4, 2013, 6:22 am

    I am always surprised at the ability of some species to survive under the harshest of conditions.

  49. Rodman M. Papros
    Philippines
    February 4, 2013, 4:18 am

    If the tortoise managed to get in the box, it surely found a way to get out at least once in thirty years to find food or water. Many things happen in a day. Thirty years is just way too long to think that nothing happened in that box but just mite-eating and moisture-licking.

  50. William Baranowski
    United States
    February 4, 2013, 3:54 am

    You sure it’s name wasn’t “Shroedinger”?

  51. Me gusta
    Romania
    February 3, 2013, 7:10 pm

    gg Ima Ryma

  52. Can't believe it ....
    India
    February 3, 2013, 1:03 pm

    UNNNNNN—BEEEEEE–LIE——-VABLE

  53. Akemi Mokoto
    Japan
    February 3, 2013, 12:54 pm

    I don’t buy this. I’ll believe it when experts say it is true. I am not going to believe the word of someone who may just want media attention.

  54. j.ro
    Winterpeg
    February 3, 2013, 1:22 am

    I don’t believe the tortoise has been in the box all this time, but I can certainly believe that it has been living quite happily in the shed and yard. It probably just happened to be in the box when Mr. Almeida picked it up. Glad the neighbour noticed her.

  55. V MATTHEWS
    INDIA.......WHERE ELSE?
    February 2, 2013, 8:23 pm

    I find something fishy here…..Nat Geo should have published it only after an authorized veterinary doctor had certified the true facts of the case!….MATTS

  56. Honut Sinti
    February 2, 2013, 7:30 pm

    OK. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A turtle walks into a box…

  57. Donna
    NE
    February 2, 2013, 12:51 pm

    Perhaps she hadn’t actually been in the box for very long. Perhaps their original assumption was correct – she went out the door, and had been living in the yard for decades, and happened to wind up in the box shortly before they found her. Seems more plausible to me.

  58. Ima Ryma
    February 2, 2013, 6:54 am

    Once upon a time, as a pet,
    Lived Manuela in a home,
    As a tortoise and she was let
    Free throughout the household to roam.
    One day she up and disappeared.
    The family searched high and low.
    But she was gone. But then the weird –
    Thirty years later, who does show
    Up in an unused closet? – same
    Manuela – joyous laughter,
    And out of the closet she came,
    To live happ’ly ever after.

    Put on the fact or fiction scale,
    Is this a tortoise fairy tale?

  59. Jan OConnor
    Munchen, Bavaria, Germany
    February 2, 2013, 3:53 am

    How!!??

  60. Austin
    February 2, 2013, 2:40 am

    Sounds like the “Old Rip” story I heard as a kid. Legend has it a horned lizard was put in the cornerstone of a building, and then pulled out still alive 31 years later.

    I didn’t believe it about Old Rip when I was a kid, and I don’t believe it about this tortoise now.

    So some family claims to have lost a tortoise and then found it in a box 30 years later, and you just assume not only that the story is true but that the tortoise didn’t eat for 3 decades? I expected better from National Geographic.

  61. Ivan Malagurski
    February 2, 2013, 1:26 am

    Amazing creatures! :)

  62. Randy Savage
    Illinois
    February 2, 2013, 12:02 am

    The part that’s confusing me is not so much about how the tortoise survived, but how did it manage to get in a box if no one placed it there? If it’s a box holding a record player, I’d assume it’s pretty tall. Most tortoises aren’t going out of their way to climb INTO a box…

  63. some internet dude
    February 1, 2013, 11:51 pm

    You know what on second thought I’m not buying it.

  64. some internet dude
    February 1, 2013, 11:43 pm

    Wow, poor little guy. I would feel so guilty. I hope he is happy and healthy.