Jonathan (tortoise)

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World's Oldest Reptile (15844883993).jpg
Jonathan in 2014
SpeciesSeychelles giant tortoise
Hatchedc. 1832 (age 186−187)
OwnerGovernment of Saint Helena

Jonathan (hatched c. 1832 (186−187 years old)[1][2] is a Seychelles giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa), a subspecies of the Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea), and the oldest known living terrestrial animal in the world.[3] Jonathan resides on the island of Saint Helena, a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic Ocean.


Jonathan (left) with another giant tortoise (1886)[4][1]

Jonathan was brought to the island from the Seychelles in 1882, along with three other tortoises at about 50 years of age. He was named in the 1930s by Governor Sir Spencer Davis. He continues to live on the grounds of Plantation House, the official residence of the Governor, and belongs to the government of Saint Helena.

His age is estimated by the fact that he was 'fully mature' when brought to St. Helena in 1882. 'Fully mature' means at least 50 years old, giving him a hatching date no later than 1832. A photograph featuring Jonathan originally thought to date from 1902 actually dates from 1886,[4][1] showing Jonathan four years after his arrival on St. Helena. Measurements taken from the photograph show that he was definitely fully mature in 1886. On 5 December 2008 the Daily Mail published an article about Jonathan and claimed that he is the same tortoise depicted in the photograph,[5] getting the year of the photograph wrong but estimating his date of hatching correctly. The article also erroneously stated that Jonathan was of the species Testudinipae cytodira. This appears to be a double misspelling as well as a reference not to his species, but rather to his family Testudinidae, and suborder Cryptodira, respectively.

The all-time verified record holder for the world's oldest tortoise, according to Guinness World Records, is Tu'i Malila, who died in Tonga in 1965 at the age of 189. Adwaita, an Aldabra giant tortoise that died in 2006 in the Alipore Zoological Gardens of Kolkata, India, is believed to have lived to the age of 255 years but this has not been confirmed.

In February 2014, as part of the Queen's Baton Relay ahead of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the baton visited Saint Helena and Governor Mark Capes, whilst holding the baton, posed for a photo alongside Jonathan in the grounds of Plantation House.[6]

BBC Radio featured Jonathan in an episode of From Our Own Correspondent in March 2014 after ocean rower Sally Kettle visited Saint Helena.[2]

The Saint Helena five pence coin has Jonathan on its reverse.

As of December 2015 Jonathan was reported to be "alive and well [...] he’s blind from cataracts, has lost his sense of smell, and so cannot detect food (his fellow giants can detect the tiniest morsel dropped on the ground), but he has retained excellent hearing."[7] In January 2016, the BBC reported that Jonathan was given a new diet intended to keep him healthy and extend his life.[8]

The sex of Frederika, one of two of his favorite female tortoises (the other being Emily), was cast into doubt in 2017 when island vet Catherine Man indicated that due to a shell deformity, her plastron could not be verified.[9] Frederika has since been declared to be male.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Hollins, Jonathan (8 April 2016). "Your Opinion Counts" (PDF). The St Helena Independent. Retrieved 29 July 2017.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b Kettle, Sally (13 March 2014). "Meet Jonathan, St Helena's 182-year-old giant tortoise". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  3. ^ Rogers, James (October 23, 2017). "The fascinating sex life of Jonathan, the 185-year-old giant tortoise". Fox News. Fox Entertainment Group. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  4. ^ a b "St Helena - Joining the Rest of Us". BBC. Retrieved 14 August 2018. Earliest known photograph of Jonathan the 182 year old tortoise, taken in 1886
  5. ^ "Jonathan the 176-year-old tortoise revealed as world's oldest animal in Boer War photo". Daily Mail. London: Associated Newspapers Ltd. 5 December 2008. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  6. ^ "Queen's Baton completes busy time on St Helena" (Press release). Jamestown: Government of Saint Helena. 25 February 2014. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  7. ^ Thomas, Dylan. "Jonathan the tortoise". Saint Helena Island Info. Burgh House Limited. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  8. ^ "Giant 183-year-old tortoise given new diet". BBC News. BBC. 8 January 2016. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  9. ^ Rogers, James (23 October 2017). "The fascinating sex life of Jonathan, the 185-year-old giant tortoise". Fox News. Fox News Network. Retrieved 26 December 2018.
  10. ^ "Jonathan the tortoise". Saint Helena Island Info. Retrieved 18 July 2019.[self-published source]