Thomas, the oldest tortoise in Britain, had to be put down after being attacked by the rodent in the garden of his owner’s home in Guernsey.
Born when Gladstone was Prime Minister, at first it looked as though the lettuce-loving tortoise would recover from his injury. He spent five days on a course of strong antibiotics, being fed through a tube.
But the wound became so infected that his owner, June Le Gallez, had no choice but to have him put to sleep.
“We are very upset, distraught actually,” she said last night. “Thomas was like a member of the family. He was bitten on the leg by a rogue rat in the garden and the wound became so inflamed that it started pushing into his shell.
“He wasn’t eating or appearing to get any better, so a week later, as a family, we made the decision to put him to sleep.”
Mrs Le Gallez, 54, inherited Thomas 35 years ago from her late cousin Grace Hilditch. She had been given the tortoise in 1922 as a present from her father Harry, who was friends with a London Zoo reptile keeper. Thomas lived through the Blitz with Grace at her home in Ilford, Essex, but it was bombed by the Nazis in 1945. He was rescued from the rubble by an air raid warden.
For most of his incredibly long life, the tortoise hid a dark secret under his shell – he was actually a female.
It was only when Mrs Le Gallez became his owner in 1978 that a vet discovered the staggering truth, nearly a century after Thomas was born.
By then he was already a national institution, so the name stuck, and he continued living happily with fellow tortoises Gorky and Carstaias, mere striplings at 50. Gorky was bitten on the nose in the same rat attack.
Mrs Le Gallez said: “People suggested I rename him Thomasina, but I thought it would be cruel. For more than 30 years the tortoises have roamed free in the garden and nothing has happened. It’s such a shame for him to go this way. Thomas has been through so much.”source