A tortoise whose royal owners claimed was 344 years old has died in the palace of the traditional ruler of Ogbomosho, southwest Nigeria, a spokesman said Saturday.

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Although animal experts doubt the tortoise could have attained such an advanced age, its royal owners say Alagba, meaning Elder, had lived in the palace for centuries. Alagba died after ‘a brief illness’.

Describing the tortoise as the ‘oldest in Africa’, Ajamu said: ‘Alagba lived in the palace for centuries. The tortoise played host to many monarchs in Ogbomoso in the past.’

The revered reptile was apparently brought to the palace by the kingdom’s third leader, Isan Okumoyede, who reigned from 1770 to 1797.

However, Isan Okumoyede reigned just over 200 years ago. This means the tortoise would have already been 100 when she was found, for her to have reached the grand old age of 344.

But one expert expressed scepticism concerning the real age of the animal.

‘I seriously doubt if Alagba was 344 years old before it died,’ Yomi Agbato, a Lagos-based veterinary doctor.

A hundred years is a very good age, Giant tortoises can live up to 200, but that’s a very rare exception.

‘Oftentimes, Kabiyesi (the king) shares great moments with Alagba. On a daily basis, Alagba, had tourists visiting her from different part of the world,’ he added.

The king had employed two palace workers to take care of the tortoise. Its remains would be preserved for posterity, Ajamu added.

According to Ajamu, the tortoise was said to have had ‘healing powers’ as many people with spiritual problems who came in contact with the animal were cured.

A Private Secretary to Oba Oyewumi, Toyin Ajamu said the tortoise, which attracted tourists from different parts of the world would be missed not only by people in the palace but everyone who came in contact with it.

The palace secretary explained that plans are underway to preserve Alagba’s body for historical records.