Rony Ryckoort of Waregem, Belgium, has had a love and a fascination for animals since he was a little boy. His absolute favorite animal of all time was the tortoise.
When Rony began keeping the bigger species, he bought his first adult pair of African spurred tortoises in 1990 and decided to specialize in African species that lived in grasslands.
Even now, Rony dedicates his life to keeping and breeding African tortoises and teaching people about these special animals. His main focus involves the African spurred tortoises and the pancake tortoises, both of which he has huge groups roaming around in his ‘Tortoise room.’
The largest specimens of African-spurred tortoises he has to weigh about 220 pounds and are said to be more than 100 years old.
He keeps his tortoises in a huge outdoor area decorated with big rocks, fig and olive trees, and even a small pond, where all his adult African-spurred tortoises can move about freely. A huge, heated indoor space is enough shelter for all 13 of his adult African-spurred tortoises.
His tortoises have close to a thousand babies each year, and those are now scattered all over the world.
On May 28th, 2012, a special little miracle was born under Rony’s care. Weighing in at only 0.028 pounds, a two-headed baby African spurred tortoise came into the world.
Rony named the tortoise ‘Kianga’, an African name that means ‘Sunshine.’
It was obvious to Rony that one of the two heads was more dominant than the other. It began eating a few days before the second head decided to. And even now, the head on the left is the most dominant one!
Because many animals born with two heads have some health issues to deal with, these problems can prevent them from having a pain-free and normal life. And just a few animals born with two heads can live long and healthy lives. So, to determine if his ray of sunshine was healthy, he got in touch with some of Western Europe’s best reptile veterinarians and asked if they would give Kianga a close look. Most of the veterinarians concluded that the tortoise’s health was excellent, and they decided to wait and see if the tortoise would grow, eat and generally ‘live’ like it should before they took any further steps.
Rony dedicated his life every day to making sure that Kianga was taken care of in the best possible way. He even slept on the sofa for more than a year after she was born, checking on her every few hours to ensure everything was alright.
After three years had gone by, Rony decided to get the vets back together to perform a whole body scan of the three-year-old, two-headed tortoise. And what the scan revealed was incredible.
The only thing malformed on Kianga is situated in her spinal cord, just at the end of her neck. The spinal cord has a ‘Y’-junction, which allows her to have two heads, each one with a perfectly formed brain and cervical spinal cord, two tracheas that lead to one set of normal lungs, two esophagi that lead to one normal-sized stomach, and one beating heart!
In a nutshell: only Kianga’s head and neck are doubled, everything else in her body is as normal as the body of any other tortoise. And according to experts, Kianga will most likely live a long and happy life. With the excellent care provided hereby Rony, she’ll most likely outlive him and possibly even her next caretaker!
Rony’s goal is to make sure that everyone in the world sees Kianga. He’s shown her to audiences all over Belgium and the Netherlands with help from the H.E.R.P. (The Herpetological Education and Research Project).
This organization educates young and old about reptiles, amphibians, and arthropods. It is led by Laura Ruysseveldt and Bryan Minne, both biologists/herpetologists and professional animal experts specializing in herpetofauna. Rony has been featured on the news many times as a partner of this organization.
He’s had many offers from zoos and reptile parks worldwide that would love to get their hands on this magnificent reptile. But Rony’s love for Kianga is much too deep to ever part with her.
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