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Published: Monday, 9/1/2014 - Updated: 2 weeks ago

Mighty Emerson: Up close and sociable

Giant tortoise wows weekend visitors to zoo

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo Zoo visitors enjoy Emerson, a 100-year-old tortoise from THE BLADE on Vimeo.

Laura Fawcett of Toledo and  her son, Evan, 8, look through the glass to see the zoo’s newest attraction. Laura Fawcett of Toledo and her son, Evan, 8, look through the glass to see the zoo’s newest attraction.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Give ol’ Emerson his due.

On a day hot and muggy enough to make a tortoise groan — or, at least, let’s say it was one sticky and humid enough to ask the following question: “Do tortoises groan?” — the 100-year-old ambassador of the mighty Galapagos clan lugged his 440-pound body, including its thick and heavy shield, up to the window of his new display at the Toledo Zoo for kids to giggle and parents to gawk up close.

Did the elder statesman jump up with a top hat and cane and do a dazzling display of acrobatic stunts, tap-dancing and somersaults?

Hardly.

But he certainly was sociable — about as sociable as you could expect a 440-pound tortoise to be on a hot and muggy day during the Opening Weekend of his new digs at the Toledo Zoo, which followed a long journey of approximately 2,300 miles from his former home at the San Diego Zoo.

“Hi, turtle!” squealed Ganon Albright, 3, of Manitou Beach, Mich. “I wanna ride on that turtle, I wanna ride on that turtle!”

No riding, Ganon, explained the boy’s parents, Andrew Albright, 29, and Jessica Albright, 32.

And, it’s a tortoise, not a turtle.

“He’ll probably be talking about it all week, knowing him,” his father said.

Visitors crowd around the exhibition glass to see the new tortoise at the Toledo Zoo. Visitors crowd around the exhibition glass to see the new tortoise at the Toledo Zoo.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Emerson drew a steady succession of visitors early in the afternoon, although most people interviewed said they were planning to visit the zoo during the holiday weekend, anyway.

Attendance was up, zoo officials report, with 5,485 visitors compared with 4,874 on the Sunday before Labor Day in 2013, and 4,150 in 2012.

There was no pushing, no shoving, no big lines. Not even people bumping others out of the way to take a selfie of the zoo’s new star with their cell phone cameras.

It was just a nice, cordial stream of visitors — the way the zoo always likes it — and Emerson was doing his part to accommodate them, by coming up close and not keeping his distance or hiding.

Nicole Line, 23, of Lima, Ohio, and her husband, Joshua Line, 21, said they had to make a day of it after Nicole’s little brother, Evan, 8, learned about Emerson’s debut.

“He was the one who told us about the 100-year-old [tortoise] and we had to come see it,” Mrs. Line said, joined in the outing by Evan’s mother, Laura Fawcett, 46.

Mrs. Line said she is a first-grade teacher at Lima’s Heir Force Community School, and believes ol’ Emerson could inspire another field trip.

Emerson peeks up from eating grass to check out the visitors through the window of his exhibit at the Toledo Zoo.  The ambassador of the Galapagos clan was as sociable as a 100-year-old, 440-pound  tortoise can be during the opening weekend at his new digs. Emerson arrived in Toledo last week from the San Diego Zoo. Emerson peeks up from eating grass to check out the visitors through the window of his exhibit at the Toledo Zoo. The ambassador of the Galapagos clan was as sociable as a 100-year-old, 440-pound tortoise can be during the opening weekend at his new digs. Emerson arrived in Toledo last week from the San Diego Zoo.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Old and big.

Those were the two words that rolled off almost everyone’s tongues after seeing the giant in person.

Like all big tortoises, Emerson ambles. He doesn’t run or move fast.

At 100 years old, he actually is only middle-aged. Biologists say he could live another 50 to 100 years.

He’s slow, but he moves. And he inspires imaginations, such as that of Jaythen Smitley, 8, of Archbold, Ohio, who said he was eager to meet Emerson because he’s a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. He said he plans to tell his friends at school about Emerson.

Layla Carver, 3, of Delta, Ohio, daughter of Ashley Carver, 24, seemed impressed by the massive tortoise but wanted everyone to know her heart remains with Disney princesses, such as Jasmine, Ariel, Sleeping Beauty (aka Aurora), and Belle.

The Smitleys and the Carvers were at the zoo for a family outing with the great-grandmother of the two children, Joan Schott, 73, of Swanton.

“I’m just amazed at how old they get,” Mrs. Schott said of big tortoises in general.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.



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