Jonathan (tortoise)

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A photograph believed to be of Jonathan around 1886[1]
Species Seychelles giant tortoise
Sex Male
Born Unknown; thought to be in 1832[1]
Owner Government of Saint Helena

Jonathan (hatched c. 1832)[1][2] is a Seychelles giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa) that lives on the island of Saint Helena, a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Jonathan in September 2014

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 in the grounds of Plantation House, the official residence of the Governor, and belongs to the government of Saint Helena.

His possible 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 date-of-birth no later than 1832. The photograph was originally thought to date from 1902, but actually dates from 1886,[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 a story claiming Jonathan is the same tortoise pictured in the photograph,[3] getting the date of the photograph wrong but estimating his date of birth correctly. The article also erroneously stated 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.

If he really was hatched in 1832 he could now be the oldest known living reptile on earth. 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.[4]

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."[5] In January 2016, the BBC reported that Jonathan was given a new diet intended to keep him healthy and extend his life.[6]

In 2017, it was discovered that Frederica, the tortoise he has been regularly mating with since 1991, previously assumed to be a female, is probably actually a male.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d "St Helena Independent 20160408". The St Helena Independent. 8 April 2016. Retrieved 29 July 2017. 
  2. ^ a b Kettle, Sally (13 March 2014). "Meet Jonathan, St Helena's 182-year-old giant tortoise". BBC News. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  3. ^ "Jonathan the 176-year-old tortoise revealed as world's oldest animal in Boer War photo". Daily Mail. London. 5 December 2008. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  4. ^ "Queen's Baton completes busy time on St Helena" (Press release). Jamestown: Government of Saint Helena. 25 February 2014. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  5. ^ Moonbeams Limited. "Saint Helena Island Info: All about St. Helena, in the South Atlantic Ocean • Jonathan the tortoise". Retrieved 3 April 2016. 
  6. ^ "Giant 183-year-old tortoise given new diet - BBC News". BBC News. Retrieved 16 June 2016. 
  7. ^ Binyon, Michael (19 October 2017). "St Helena tortoise has a gay old time". The Times. Retrieved 20 October 2017.