Jonathan the Tortoise Celebrates 190th Birthday

He's the world's oldest land animal, according to Guinness.

Jonathan tortoise and birthday cake
Jonathan celebrates with a veggie birthday cake.

St. Helena Tourism

There’s a big birthday celebration on St. Helena Island as Jonathan the famed Seychelles giant tortoise celebrates 190 years.

At least that’s the estimate for this well-known tortoise, who is believed to be the world’s oldest living land animal, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Jonathan had a birthday party on the grounds of Plantation House, the governor’s residence where he lives. Islanders stopped by for photos, to offer him well wishes, and to buy special commemorative stamps featuring his image.

“Jonathan was presented with a cake consisting purely of his favorite fruit and vegetables, created and presented by the staff at Plantation House, who care for him daily,” St. Helena Tourism posted on Facebook.

“Jonathan is truly a national treasure, loved by the people of St Helena—this was shown yesterday when the community came together to celebrate his amazing milestone. Thank you to everyone involved.”

Tracking Jonathan's Age

Jonathan is a Seychelles giant tortoise (Dipsochelys hololissa) that was brought to the island from Seychelles in 1882 along with three other tortoises. He was a gift to Sir William Grey-Wilson, who later became governor.

Although no one knows exactly how old Jonathan is, a photo was found from the Boer War that showed a giant tortoise next to a war prisoner around 1900. In 2008, the Daily Mail media site wrote a story claiming Jonathan was the same tortoise in the photo.

Later, an old photo taken between 1882 and 1886 surfaced. It showed Jonathan grazing on grass in the Plantation House garden.

According to Guinness, Jonathan is the oldest chelonian, a category that includes all turtles, tortoises, and terrapins.

Before Jonathan, the oldest chelonian was Tu’i Malila, a radiated tortoise that lived to be at least 188, Guinness reports. She died in the mid-1960s.

The Seychelles giant tortoise is extinct in the wild. The animals were hunted for food and for exportation.

Sunbathing and Snacking with Friends

Jonathan is definitely a local celebrity. A local coin has Jonathan featured on one side.

He spends his days hanging out with three other giant tortoises: David, Emma, and Fred.

His veterinarian Joe Hollins told Guinness that Jonathan "enjoys the sun but on very hot days takes to the shade. On mild days, he will sunbathe—his long neck and legs stretched fully out of his shell to absorb heat and transfer it to his core."

On colder days, Jonathan likes to “dig himself into leaf mold or grass clippings and remain there all day.”

The giant tortoise is blind and can’t smell, but his hearing is great.. He is fed by hand once a week to give him extra calories, vitamins, and minerals. He loves being around people and associates his vet’s voice as a sign that good food is on its way.

Jonathan’s big birthday bash garnered global attention

“Congratulations Jonathan on your 190th!” tweeted Nigel Smith, the governor of St. Helena. “Hope you enjoyed your delicious veggie birthday cake. Celebrations continue on St. Helena with a special Christmas market, and of course, lots more.”

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