The South African Bird Ringing Unit

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Longevity of Methuselah the Great White Pelican

Dane Paijmans(2015-01-21)

I hope everyone had a wonderful festive season and that 2015 has got off to a great start! To kick off this year's longevity stories we have a very special record: the oldest living individual currently in the SAFRING database. This title belongs to the Great White Pelican nicknamed "Methuselah" by Mark Boorman.

Methuselah, or "Peter the pelican" as he* is also known, was first ringed by Hu Berry on Bird Rock; a man-made guano platform just a few kilometers off Walvis Bay, Namibia. As a young researcher, Hu Berry ringed Methuselah as a chick on the 30th December 1972. Since then Methuselah doesn't appear to have travelled far from home. Although little is known of his first 30 years, Methuselah was re-sighted at the Raft Restaurant in Walvis Bay on 21 February 2003 by Mark Boorman. Since then he has been spotted on several occasions around Walvis Bay and Swakopmund by registered ringers Mark Boorman and Peter Bridgeford, as well as bird enthusiasts Nigel Goodgame, Laszlo Haraszthy and a group from Mola Mola Safaris.

Methuselah earned his nickname after being re-sighted on 5 January 2015 (making him 42 years old). This age exceeds all our longevity records in the SAFRING database and as far as I can tell is the greatest age for any pelican in the wild. Of the 8 pelican species around the world, there are few wild individuals that come close to this age, the second oldest on record being a wild Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) at 27 years 10 months (North American bird ringing programme). There are however some captive records exceeding 42 years, the oldest being an American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) at 54 years, and another Great White Pelican which reached 51 years (Longevity Records: Life spans of Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, Amphibians and Fish by Carey and Judge).

It will be interesting to see if Methuselah has what it takes to outlive his captive counterparts but only time will tell. In the meantime if you are out and about near Walvis Bay keep an eye out and let us know if you happen to spot this old-timer.

Background information on "Peter the Pelican/Methuselah' taken from "Bridgeford, P. 2009. (...Of Shoes and ships and sealing-wax) and pelicans and rings. Mitteilungen newsletter 50: 33. The photo accompanied by this article is accredited to Mark Boorman.

If you feel you know of an older record please contact us at SAFRING with the details

* Or "she" - the sex of Methuselah is currently unknown.

  Taxonomy   Maximum Longevity
  Order: Pelecaniformes
       Family: Pelecanidae
             Genus: Pelecanus
  28 years (Roberts 7)
  >42 years (SAFRING)
  Species   Ring Number
  Pelecanus onocrotalus   H01024
  Common name   Sample size
 Great White Pelican   Ringed: 1188      Retrapped: 115
  Recovered: 166 Total: 1469

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