A team of top veterinarians from the Cornell University Veterinary Specialists in Stamford yesterday administered a human grade CT scan on Arizona, a 25-year-old, 300-pound rare Galapagos tortoise that lives in Pound Ridge.
Click on the video for exclusive footage of the tortoise in his Westchester habitat and to learn more about Arizona, who is part of the largest privately held collection of Seychelle and Galapagos tortoises in the world.
The rare reptile was brought to Stamford by his owners and their veterinarian, Dr. Jeremy Sabatini of Pleasantville Animal Hospital, who typically treats the tortoises at their Westchester home, a 1,000 square-foot stone house with room to roam on a three-acre meadow.
Arizona needed specialized equipment in order to diagnose the tortoise’s non-functioning hind leg, and a team of four people escorted him to the lab on Canal Street Tuesday morning.
Sabatini sedated Arizona for the trip over. Once there, Susan Hackner, chief medical officer at Cornell University Veterinary Specialists, and her team anesthetized him for the brief process of scanning his thick scaly legs, and information from the scan was sent to both computers in the CT lab and a tortoise expert in California who will help in diagnosing Arizona.
The veterinarians and lab technicians running Arizona's CT seemed awestruck by the tortoise and snapped a few photographs while performing their work. Arizona remained somewhat camera-shy during the process and slinked his head back into its wide shell.
Arizona's owners chose to remain anonymous but generously offered information about him and his fellow tortoises in Westchester. The husband and wife team said they could tell something was “off” with the tortoise for some time. They keep close tabs on the animals and say each has their own distinct personality. The tortoises live half of the year on the couple’s property in Pound Ridge and when the days grow colder, they’re loaded into a custom-built trailer and taken to Florida, where the couple maintains a farm.
If Arizona's scan reveals that his hind leg has become lame, his treatment may take years, the couple said. "He'll be quarantined, given a high calcium diet, and be restricted from mating. Natural grazing will be important," said the husband, an artist and a botanist.
The tortoises eat mostly grass, but are given lettuce and enjoy cactus fruit that the couple grows.
Galapagos tortoises are considered a "vulnerable" species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and were once considered to be an endangered species due to hunting, natural hazards within their African habitat, and disease. One subspecies of the Galapagos tortoise, the Pinta Island tortoise, is extinct in the wild.
The tortoises in the couple’s collection range in age from 5 to 30 years old and weigh up to 700 pounds. The owners said they have hatched about 20 tortoise babies that may live up to 150 years.
They are involved in the conservation of tortoises by sharing information about their diet and habitat and health with leading researchers around the world and say that keeping them in captivity helps propagate the species that might otherwise be erased by disease and natural disasters.