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SPECIAL COVERAGE: Living With Wildfires: San Diego Firestorm 10 Years Later

Sam The Galapagos Tortoise Celebrates 53rd Birthday In Encinitas

A small crowd gathered Thursday morning in Encinitas to celebrate one of the planet's threatened land turtles — the Galapagos Tortoise.

Sam first came to the San Diego Botanic Garden five years ago and is in the care of the Duval family.

Julian Duval is the animal's official guardian but that job will eventually get passed on because the turtle could live another 100 years.

Duval has tracked Sam's care during his stay at the Botanic Garden in Encinitas. The 568-pound tortoise lives here, in the back, away from public eyes.

"Today we celebrated his 53rd birthday, so he's been around for a while. And I first met him back in 1966 when he was not much bigger than this plate that I've got my carrot cake on in fact," Duval said.

Sam was cared for by Julian's sister until the hard-shelled reptile outgrew their Chicago home. That only took a couple of years because Sam grew so fast.

That's when the tortoise came to live with Lois Dickson in Fallbrook. She kept him for nearly 40 years. She said Sam loved attention.

"To some people he might appear threatening, but people that really like animals see that he's docile and friendly and interested in humans," Dickson said.

Sam was also a typical birthday boy. He showed a lot of interest in his veggie birthday cake which was topped with a banana.

He will spend the rest of the year on a diet, because he is larger than a Galapagos turtle should be.

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