Jonathan, a tortoise who is 190 years old, was seen in a photograph taken in 1886. He is still alive today.


Meet Jonathan, a tortoise who is an incredible 190 years old.

Meet Jonathan, a huge tortoise who resides on the faraway island of St. Helena. This year, he is celebrating his 190th birthday, which means he holds the record for being the oldest tortoise ever known. Can you believe that there are pictures of Jonathan dating back to 1886? These incredible images capture him throughout a span of 136 years, showcasing his extraordinary life journey.

The World’s Oldest Land Animal Ever.

Jonathan is a massive Seychelles tortoise who made his way to St. Helena aboard a ship in 1882. According to a letter found in the island’s records, he was a special gift from Sir William Grey-Wilson, a British colonial administrator. Interestingly, Sir William Grey-Wilson would go on to become the governor of the island in 1887.

According to Teeny Lucy from the St. Helena SPCA, when Jonathan arrived at St. Helena, he was already a fully grown tortoise, estimated to be at least 50 years old. This means he would have hatched around the year 1832. It’s important to note that Jonathan holds the title of the oldest land animal globally, but there are actually many sea creatures that are even older than him in the ocean!

Photo by Teeny Lucy.

This year, Jonathan is celebrating his 190th birthday, and something really exciting happened. He has been officially recognized by Guinness World Records as not only the world’s oldest land animal but also the oldest turtle ever recorded! It’s a remarkable achievement for Jonathan, and it’s a cause for celebration!

According to Guinness World Records, Jonathan now holds the official record title for being the oldest chelonian. This category includes all types of turtles, terrapins, and tortoises. The previous record-holder was Tu’i Malila, a radiated tortoise who lived to at least 188 years old. Tu’i Malila had a fascinating story too. It was given as a gift to the royal family of Tonga by Captain Cook around 1777 and remained under their care until it passed away in 1965.

Based on estimations, Jonathan is believed to have been born around the year 1832. That means in 2022, he turned 190 years old. We estimate his age based on the fact that when he arrived in St. Helena from the Seychelles in 1882, he was already fully mature and at least 50 years old. However, there is a good chance that Jonathan is actually even older than our estimations suggest. His incredible age continues to amaze us!

In March 2006, a giant tortoise called Adwaita, from the species known as Aldabra, passed away in India. It’s believed that Adwaita lived to be around 255 years old, although this age hasn’t been officially confirmed.

Jonathan Was Photographed in 1886.

Jonathan is incredibly ancient, so much so that there are photographs of him that stretch over a period of 136 years. One of these pictures, taken by an unknown photographer way back in 1886, depicts Jonathan alongside another gigantic tortoise. The photo was taken at the St. Helena Government House grounds, showcasing Jonathan’s remarkable presence throughout the years.

Jonathan the tortoise (left) with an unnamed tortoise in 1886.

Since Jonathan was already fully grown in the old photograph, he appears quite similar in pictures taken today. Despite the passage of time, his appearance has remained relatively consistent.

Photo by Teeny Lucy.
Photo by Teeny Lucy.

Age is Catching Up to Jonathan.

Jonathan is doing well and looks great, but he has surpassed the typical lifespan of his species by far. Understandably, as he has grown older, Jonathan has experienced health problems associated with his advanced age.

According to Lucy, who spoke to PetaPixel, giant tortoises typically live for about 150 years. So, Jonathan is doing exceptionally well, surpassing that age by a significant margin! However, due to his old age, he has developed cataracts, resulting in mostly impaired vision. Additionally, Jonathan has lost his sense of smell. Despite these challenges, he knows his surroundings so well that he moves around his spacious area without any difficulty and enjoys grazing on the grass.

We are quite confident that Jonathan can recognize the sound or sense the pressure of our footsteps. Despite his age, he has a robust appetite and enjoys eating very well.

Jonathan has health issues in his old age. Photo by Helena Bennett.

Every Sunday, Lucy and veterinarian Joe take special care of Jonathan by feeding him directly with their hands. This ensures that he receives the necessary nutrition to keep him healthy and well-nourished.

According to Lucy, in 2009, it was noticed that Jonathan’s beak (since tortoises don’t have teeth!) was becoming weak and brittle, causing him to lose weight. To address this issue, they started providing him with extra food every week, which made a significant improvement. As a result, Jonathan’s beak regrew its sharp edge, allowing him to effectively scythe through the grass again.

“Jonathan enjoys carrots, lettuce (his favorite), apples, guava (in season), bananas, cabbage, and pears.”

Jonathan feeding. Photo by Teeny Lucy.

Jonathan’s Social Life on St. Helena.

Even though Jonathan’s senses may not be as sharp as before, he continues to lead a surprisingly active social life.fe.

According to Lucy, there are four enormous tortoises from the Indian Ocean species living on St. Helena. Their names are Jonathan, David, Fred, and Emma, and they reside in a place called the Paddock. This special area is located at the Governor’s residence, known as Plantation House.

Joe, speaking to Guinness World Records, reveals that despite Jonathan’s advanced age, he still maintains a strong and active interest in mating. He frequently engages in mating behaviors with Emma, and sometimes even with Fred. It’s worth noting that animals are not usually concerned about gender-specific interactions and tend to be more instinct-driven in such matters.

Jonathan enjoys an active social life on the island of St. Helena. The photograph of Jonathan has been taken by Xben911 and is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

When Jonathan is not eating or socializing with other tortoises, he tends to be quite inactive and doesn’t move around much.

According to Lucy, these tortoises from the Seychelles don’t hibernate since it’s unnecessary in their natural habitat. However, during the winter when it gets colder on St. Helena, they tend to slow down significantly. They spend more time inside their shells or seek warmth by snuggling into piles of grass thoughtfully left for them by the gardeners at Plantation House.

“Joe the vet and I feel very privileged to be involved in the care of this special animal and to celebrate his 190th year.”

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