The love between Bibi and Poldi, a celebrity couple of Galapagos tortoises, began sometime in the 1920s and spanned countries and decades. Both born around 1897, the pair met at the zoo in Switzerland around the turn of the 20th century. They laid together in the sun; they munched on the tomatoes together.
While they were together, Bibi and Poldi had the longest known relationship of any two animals on Earth. And then Bibi abruptly ended their relationship, becoming so hostile toward Poldi that the two had to be permanently separated: One fateful day in 2012, she became irate and bit off a piece of Poldi’s shell. On that day, Bibi became a single icon.
According to Atlas Obscura, for a long time after the breakup, zookeepers tried to repair the tortoises’ relationship by talking to the animals and encouraging them to reconcile. But Bibi especially refused to cohabitate with her ex. At one point it was even suggested that Bibi may have had some sort of breakdown that caused her to start attacking Poldi, but after going through several animal doctors, it was confirmed that Bibi was of sound mind and body.
I am no reptile behavioral expert, but I think it’s safe to assume that this is because Bibi wasn’t having a breakdown, she was having a breakthrough. Bibi clearly determined at some point leading up to her antagonism toward Poldi that she didn’t want to be with him anymore. And when she made that decision, she stuck to it. I find that admirable.
“We get the feeling they can’t stand the sight of each other anymore,” Klagenfurt Zoo director Helga Happ told the Independent in 2012. “For no reason anyone can discover, they have fallen out.”
All too often, we keep exes in our lives who add no value. They don’t make us happy, they don’t make us laugh. They don’t give us butterflies when we see them, and they don’t make us want to become better people (or tortoises). But Bibi was braver than that. She refused to settle for a shell that wasn’t fulfilling.
Happ told Obscura all efforts to reunite the couple have been abandoned for a few years now. When Bibi sees Poldi, “she hisses like a snake,” says Happ. “She does not want to live with him.”
Instead, the two creatures, who can live up to 200 years old, live in separate residences that were built by the zoo. “We have built two houses, created two outdoor facilities, and made two baths,” Happ explained, though there is still a glass divide along one part of their habitat. The zookeepers remain hopeful they will repair their relationship.
But I hope they don’t. In the wild, Galapagos tortoises are not monogamous. Bibi clearly found herself in a situation that was not natural to her, and did not make her happy. She firmly established her boundaries and decided that living alone was better than living a lie. I hope that we all have that kind of conviction when we need it. (Minus the biting, though!)