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6 Amazing Animals That Practically Lived Forever

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Here are six legendary animals that lived a lot longer than most pets.

1. ADWAITA THE TORTOISE (1750-2006)

Even with the long life expectancy of giant tortoises, an Aldabra Giant Tortoise named Adwaita blows all others away with a life lasting around 255 years. Estimates put his birth date around 1750, making him an entire generation older than the United States of America.

The tortoise was originally owned by a man named General Robert Clive, an important member of the East India Company, who got addicted to opium and killed himself in 1774. Barely a toddler at that time, Adwaita bummed around for a bit before eventually being transferred to an Indian zoo in 1875, where he spent the rest of his life eating and...that's pretty much it. After his death in 2006, carbon dating on his shell confirmed his age, making him quite possibly the oldest living creature ever, and almost certainly the oldest living vertebrate.

2. LIN WANG THE ELEPHANT (1917-2003)

The average lifespan for an elephant can be anything from 50-70 years, but the oldest elephant ever was named Lin Wang, who died in a Taiwanese zoo at the ripe old age of 86. But he managed to fit a whole lot of awesome into his life before then.

During World War II, the young pachyderm was recruited to move supplies for the Japanese army before being captured by the Chinese along with a dozen other elephants. At the end of the war, Lin Wang managed to survive the trek back to China from Burma, which was so difficult that it killed six of the other elephants. For the next few years, he was used to build monuments and joined a circus.

When China fell to the Communists in 1949, many people fled to Taiwan, and they brought Lin Wang along with them; within two years he was the only elephant out of the original 13 captured during the war that was still alive. Once safely in Taiwan he was finally placed in a zoo to live out his retirement in peace.

As he grew older, Lin Wang became famous and received the absolute devotion of the Taiwanese. Starting in 1983, his birthday was celebrated every year. Even his transfer from one zoo to another brought thousands of people out to watch. When he finally died in 2003, tens of thousands of people left cards and flowers outside the zoo, including the then President of Taiwan.

3. BIG BERTHA THE COW (1944-1993)

While most cows consider 25 years to be extremely old age, Big Bertha was born while World War II was still raging and died after most of the people reading this were born. In between, she managed to fit in a lot more excitement than a normal cow. Besides pushing out 39 children, for which she was awarded a Guinness World Record for most calves from one cow, she also managed to help raise $75,000 for cancer by making celebrity appearances at cattle fairs.

Being a true Irish lass, Bertha regularly led her local St. Patrick's Day parade, but since the noise and all the people were a bit much for her, her owner always calmed her nerves by feeding her whiskey beforehand.

Bertha was eventually awarded her second Guinness honor for Oldest Ever Cow. When she died, the locals held a wake for her in her favorite pub, which was "packed to suffocation" with people toasting her memory. If you ever want to go see her, her stuffed body is on display at a farm in Ireland.

4. CHARLIE THE MACAW (1899(?)-PRESENT)

Charlie is a crotchety old blue macaw that may have already lived through three centuries—a lot longer than the average 50 year life span of normal macaws. Charlie's owner claims the bird was born the very end of the 19th century and that the bird was a favorite pet of Winston Churchill’s, who supposedly acquired Charlie in 1937 after the macaw had already managed to outlive two previous owners. While the Churchill claim is hotly debated, what is certain is that whoever did own Charlie during World War II taught him to say some very dirty phrases, mostly about Hitler and the Nazis.

His speech is so vulgar that his current owner, who says he purchased Charlie from the Churchill estate after Winston died in 1965, was forced to keep him instead of selling him in his pet shop as he had originally intended.

5. TISH THE GOLDFISH (1956-1999)

Remember those fair games where you could win a goldfish? These are an important part of childhood, because they teach kids about the briefness of life, when the fish inevitably dies 3 days later. If you are lucky it might live a year or two. That's probably what Mr. and Mrs. Hand where expecting when they let their son Peter try to win a pair of fish in 1956. Little did they know they would be taking care of one of those fish into their 70s.

After a few suicide attempts in his youth, Tish settled down with his bowl mate Tosh. That carnival worker must have been feeding all of his fish something pretty amazing, because Tosh didn’t expire until 1975. Normally that would be pretty impressive for a goldfish if his friend Tish hadn’t made lasting 19 years look pathetic, by living until the ripe old age of 43.

A year before he died, Tish was awarded the title of Oldest Goldfish by the Guinness Book of World Records.

6. MATILDA THE CHICKEN (1990-2006)

Keith and Donna Barton bought Matilda for $10 at a fair in 1990. Instead of putting her in a chicken coop or eating her or any of those normal things you expect people to do with chickens, they put Matilda to work as a part of their magic act.

They probably expected to replace their poultry assistant a lot sooner than they did, though; while most chickens only live 7-8 years, Matilda was still kicking after 15. She never laid a single egg in all that time, an abnormality that some chicken experts think may have directly contributed to her long life.

In 2001, Matilda became the first chicken to place in the Guinness Book of World Records as "World's Oldest Living Chicken." This led to the second horrible thing her owners put her through: a spot on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

In her later years, Matilda used her celebrity for good, attending many charity functions. She died in 2006.

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The Real Bay of Pigs: Big Major Cay in the Bahamas
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When most people visit the Bahamas, they’re thinking about a vacation filled with sun, sand, and swimming—not swine. But you can get all four of those things if you visit Big Major Cay.

Big Major Cay, also now known as “Pig Island” for obvious reasons, is part of the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas. Exuma includes private islands owned by Johnny Depp, Tyler Perry, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, and David Copperfield. Despite all of the local star power, the real attraction seems to be the family of feral pigs that has established Big Major Cay as their own. It’s hard to say how many are there—some reports say it’s a family of eight, while others say the numbers are up to 40. However big the band of roaming pigs is, none of them are shy: Their chief means of survival seems to be to swim right up to boats and beg for food, which the charmed tourists are happy to provide (although there are guidelines about the best way of feeding the pigs).

No one knows exactly how the pigs got there, but there are plenty of theories. Among them: 1) A nearby resort purposely released them more than a decade ago, hoping to attract tourists. 2) Sailors dropped them off on the island, intending to dine on pork once they were able to dock for a longer of period of time. For one reason or another, the sailors never returned. 3) They’re descendants of domesticated pigs from a nearby island. When residents complained about the original domesticated pigs, their owners solved the problem by dropping them off at Big Major Cay, which was uninhabited. 4) The pigs survived a shipwreck. The ship’s passengers did not.

The purposeful tourist trap theory is probably the least likely—VICE reports that the James Bond movie Thunderball was shot on a neighboring island in the 1960s, and the swimming swine were there then.

Though multiple articles reference how “adorable” the pigs are, don’t be fooled. One captain warns, “They’ll eat anything and everything—including fingers.”

Here they are in action in a video from National Geographic:

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13 Secrets From the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London
Christine Colby
Christine Colby

Christopher Skaife is a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, an ancient fortress that has been used as a jail, royal residence, and more. There are 37 Yeoman Warders, popularly known as Beefeaters, but Skaife has what might be the coolest title of them all: He is the Ravenmaster. His job is to maintain the health and safety of the flock of ravens (also called an “unkindness” or a “conspiracy”) that live within the Tower walls. According to a foreboding legend with many variations, if there aren’t at least six ravens living within the Tower, both the Tower and the monarchy will fall. (No pressure, Chris!)

Skaife has worked at the Tower for 11 years, and has many stories to tell. Recently, Mental Floss visited him to learn more about his life in service of the ravens.

1. MILITARY SERVICE IS REQUIRED.

All Yeoman Warders must have at least 22 years of military service to qualify for the position and have earned a good-conduct medal. Skaife served for 24 years—he was a machine-gun specialist and is an expert in survival and interrogation resistance. He is also a qualified falconer.

Skaife started out as a regular Yeoman Warder who had no particular experience with birds. The Ravenmaster at the time "saw something in him," Skaife says, and introduced him to the ravens, who apparently liked him—and the rest is history. He did, however, have to complete a five-year apprenticeship with the previous Ravenmaster.

2. HE LIVES ON-SITE.

The Tower of London photographed at night
Christine Colby

As tradition going back 700 years, all Yeoman Warders and their families live within the Tower walls. Right now about 150 people, including a doctor and a chaplain, claim the Tower of London as their home address.

3. BUT HE’S HAD TO MOVE.

Skaife used to live next to the Bloody Tower, but had to move to a different apartment within the grounds because his first one was “too haunted.” He doesn’t really believe in ghosts, he says, but does put stock in “echoes of the past.” He once spoke to a little girl who was sitting near the raven cages, and when he turned around, she had disappeared. He also claims that things in his apartment inexplicably move around, particularly Christmas-related items.

4. THE RAVENS ENJOY SOME UNUSUAL SNACKS.

The Ravenmaster at the Tower of London bending down to feed one of his ravens
Christine Colby

The birds are fed nuts, berries, fruit, mice, rats, chicken, and blood-soaked biscuits. (“And what they nick off the tourists,” Skaife says.) He has also seen a raven attack and kill a pigeon in three minutes.

5. THEY GET A LULLABY.

Each evening, Skaife whistles a special tone to call the ravens to bed—they’re tucked into spacious, airy cages to protect them from predators such as foxes.

6. THERE’S A DIVA.

One of the ravens doesn’t join the others in their nighttime lodgings. Merlina, the star raven, is a bit friendlier to humans but doesn’t get on with the rest of the birds. She has her own private box inside the Queen’s House, which she reaches by climbing a tiny ladder.

7. ONE OF THEM HAS EARNED THE NICKNAME “THE BLACK WIDOW.”

Ravens normally pair off for life, but one of the birds at the Tower, Munin, has managed to get her first two mates killed. With both, she lured them high atop the White Tower, higher than they were capable of flying down from, since their wings are kept trimmed. Husband #1 fell to his death. The second one had better luck coasting down on his wings, but went too far and fell into the Thames, where he drowned. Munin is now partnered with a much younger male.

8. THERE IS A SECRET PUB INSIDE THE TOWER.

Only the Yeoman Warders, their families, and invited guests can go inside a secret pub on the Tower grounds. Naturally, the Yeoman Warder’s Club offers Beefeater Bitter beer and Beefeater gin. It’s lavishly decorated in police and military memorabilia, such as patches from U.S. police departments. There is also an area by the bar where a section of the wall has been dug into and encased in glass, showing items found in an archaeological excavation of the moat, such as soldiers’ discarded clay pipes, a cannonball, and some mouse skeletons.

9. … AND A SECRET HAND.

The Byward Tower, which was built in the 13th century by King Henry III, is now used as the main entrance to the Tower for visitors. It has a secret glass brick set into the wall that most people don’t notice. When you peer inside, you’ll see it contains a human hand (presumably fake). It was put in there at some point as a bit of a joke to scare children, but ended up being walled in from the other side, so is now in there permanently.

10. HE HAS A SIDE PROJECT.

Skaife considers himself primarily a storyteller, and loves sharing tales of what he calls “Victorian melodrama.” In addition to his work at the Tower, he also runs Grave Matters, a Facebook page and a blog, as a collaboration with medical historian and writer Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris. Together they post about the history of executions, torture, and punishment.

11. THE TOWER IS MUPPET-FAMOUS.

2013’s Muppets Most Wanted was the first major film to shoot inside the Tower walls. At the Yeoman Warder’s Club, you can still sit in the same booth the Muppets occupied while they were in the pub.

12. IF YOU VISIT, KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR MONEY.

Ravens are very clever and known for stealing things from tourists, especially coins. They will strut around with the coin in their beak and then bury it, while trying to hide the site from the other birds.

13. … AND ON YOUR EYES.

Skaife, who’s covered in scars from raven bites, says, “They don’t like humans at all unless they’re dying or dead. Although they do love eyes.” He once had a Twitter follower, who is an organ donor, offer his eyes to the ravens after his death. Skaife declined.

This story first ran in 2015.

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