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WSU’s story of Gamera, the wheeled-tortoise, goes viral

Phone calls and email from around the world have been streaming in since the story broke yesterday of the African tortoise whose injured leg was replaced with a caster wheel, said Washington State University spokesman Charlie Powell.

“The minute I knew of it, I knew the story would be international and had the potential to go viral,” he said. “And, I think you can say it has.”

(Updated with photos inside)

Clipping services show the story has appeared on every continent and been carried by pretty much every major news agency in the world, Powell said.

The 12-year-old tortoise meanwhile has been chilling out, eating well and adjusting to his new mode of locomotion. Surgeons at WSU’s veterinary hospital amputated Gamera’s left front leg because it had become infected and glued on a swiveling caster-wheel prosthesis bought at the Ace Hardware in Pullman, Wash., for $7.

The 23-pound tortoise, named Gamera after the giant flying turtle of the old Japanese monster movie, is gaining weight and generally thriving with his new appendage, and that means he’s on track for a lifespan of possibly 60 years and a weight gain of some 200 pounds.

“He could get as big as the hood of a Volkswagon,” Powell said.

Gamera will live at WSU for at least a couple of years to make sure the prosthesis continues to work. The tortoise might also become a permanent resident, Powell said.

Viral positive

Gamera has become something of an ambassador for WSU, and Powell has been answering calls until late into the evening from journalists and others across the globe.

In general, he said, the publicity is great for the veterinary school since it's a positive story about an animal on the mend at WSU. The coverage has given the school world-wide exposure and what $80 million company (roughly the vet school's budget) doesn't want that?

One of the strangest calls was from a medical equipment company that wanted to know if it could jump in and design a better wheel for the wheeled-tortoise.

But, Powell said, “the tortoise will not be experimented on.”