Tortoises are known to reach their maximum size by about the age of 30, but somebody forgot to tell Goliath. After taking up residency at Seffner's Life Fellowship Bird Sanctuary as a hatchling in 1960, Goliath grew, and grew, and grew...
When the aptly monikered plodder passed away in Florida in November 2002, he was 135.8 cm (4 ft 5 in) long, 102 cm (3 ft 4 in) wide and 68.5 cm (2 ft 3 in) high, and he weighed in at 417 kg (919 lb). Unsurprisingly, Goliath was the biggest tortoise ever weighed, but then how many people have successfully manoeuvred a slow-moving, 400-kg+ creature on to a set of giant scales? Not record-holding Iranian weightlifter Hossein Rezazadeh (we presume), who, by comparison, managed to clean and jerk 'just' 263.5 kg (581 lb) to win gold at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, in August 2004 - the heaviest individual-discipline weight ever lifted by a strongman under International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) rules, but incredibly still 153.5 kg (338 lb) short of Goliath's impressive bulk.
By 1996, reports emerged that Goliath, who hailed from the Galápagos' Santa Cruz Island (aka Indefatigable Island), was tipping the scales at 385 kg (849 lb) and relentlessly piling on the pounds in pursuit of the record, no doubt munching his way through a plentiful diet of green-leafed vegetables, grasses and flowers.
Goliath may have claimed the world's largest (and heaviest) 'tortie' title, but in truth he stood a pretty good chance of success as only the Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea), from the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles, can rival the Galápagos tortoise as the world's largest species based on average size.
Giant tortoises once thrived on most continents but are now confined to two habitats, on the Galápagos Islands and the Aldabra Atoll. Sixteenth-century Spanish explorers named the Galápagos Islands after their population of tortoises (the old Spanish word "galápago" means "tortoise"), and today it is estimated that 20,000-25,000 wild tortoises inhabit the islands. Scientists believe that the first tortoises arrived on Galápagos 2-3 million years ago - during the Lower Paleolithic period - by drifting 600 mi (965 km) from the coast of South America on vegetation rafts, or on their own.
The long-lived, lumbering reptiles have captivated sailors, conservationists and tourists alike. Robust enough to survive long sea journeys, sailors once considered their fresh meat a delicacy, and they were also exploited for their oil. Over two centuries, an estimated 200,000 gentle giants were wiped out and four species are now extinct following the death of Lonesome George, the last remaining giant tortoise on the Galápagos' Pinta Island (aka Abingdon Island), in 2012. Today, despite captive breeding projects and conservation efforts including the establishment of the Galápagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation, tortoises are classed as "Vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Goliath had a relatively short life in captivity, but several specimens in the wild have been known to exceed 170 years old, even if reports of their ages are sometimes disputed because they comfortably outlive their human observers! Jonathan (b. 1832), a Seychelles giant tortoise living on the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean, is believed to have reached the ripe old age of 183, while Esmeralda, from Bird Island in the Seychelles and no stranger to Guinness World Records after she was once confirmed as the heaviest living tortoise in the wild at 363 kg (800 lb), is now well into her comparatively sprightly 170s.
Tring 184, a Chagos Archipelago native and a notable rival to Goliath's largest tortoise crown, was 134 cm (4 ft 4 in) long and weighed 318 kg (701 lb) when he was bought by "obsessive" giant tortoise collector Lord Walter Rothschild and shipped over to Britain in 1897. Sadly, Tring 184 died at London Zoo two years later, but the legacy he left in the giant tortoise stakes didn't go unnoticed.
Giant tortoises move around at about 0.17 mph (0.27 km/h) and they have a tendency to doze for up to 16 hours a day, so Goliath's record could be one that will be going nowhere fast!