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Jonathan (tortoise)

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Jonathan in April 2021
SpeciesSeychelles giant tortoise
Hatchedc. 1832 (age 191–192)
Seychelles, British Mauritius
ResidenceSaint Helena
Mate(s)Frederik[a] (1991–present)[1]
Weight100–150 kg (200–350 lb)[1]

Jonathan (hatched c. 1832)[2][3] is a Seychelles giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa), a subspecies of the Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea). His approximate age is estimated to be 191 as of 2024, making him the oldest known living land animal.[4][5] Jonathan resides on the island of Saint Helena, a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic Ocean.


Jonathan, hatched c. 1832, was brought to Saint Helena from the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean in 1882, along with three other tortoises at about 50 years of age.[6] He was named in the 1930s by Governor of Saint Helena Sir Spencer Davis and has lived through 31 governors' terms. He continues to live on the grounds of Plantation House, the official residence of the governor; he is cared for by the government of Saint Helena.[6]


Jonathan (left) with another giant tortoise (1886) (aged 53–54)[7][2]

His age is estimated because he was "fully mature" when brought to Saint Helena in 1882. "Fully mature" means at least 50 years old, giving him a hatching date no later than 1832.[8] A photograph featuring Jonathan originally thought to date from 1902 actually dates from 1886,[2] showing Jonathan four years after his arrival on Saint Helena. Measurements taken from the photograph show that he was fully mature in 1886.[citation needed]

In 2022, Jonathan's estimated age exceeded that of the tortoise that Guinness World Records had recognised as the oldest recorded ever, Tu'i Malila, who died in Tonga in 1966 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.[9]

In media[edit]

In February 2014, as part of the Queen's Baton Relay ahead of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the baton visited Saint Helena. Governor Mark Capes, whilst holding the baton, posed for a photo alongside Jonathan in the grounds of Plantation House.[10]

BBC Radio featured Jonathan in an episode of From Our Own Correspondent in March 2014 after ocean rower Sally Kettle visited Saint Helena.[3]

The Saint Helena five-pence coin has Jonathan on its reverse.[11]

Since 2015[edit]

Jonathan exploring the paddock in front of Plantation House (2022)

In December 2015, the St Helena vet Joe Hollins said that Jonathan was "alive and well [...] He's blind from cataracts, has lost his sense of smell, and so cannot detect food (his fellow giants mug him and can detect the tiniest morsel dropped on the ground), but he has retained excellent hearing."[1] In January 2016, the BBC reported that Jonathan was given a new diet intended to keep him healthy and extend his life.[12] Due to his advanced age, Jonathan spends his days doing almost everything with his mate, including eating, sleeping and mating.[13]

The sex of Frederica, one of two of his favourite tortoises thought to be female (the other being Emily), as well as his companion since 1991, was cast into doubt in 2017 when island veterinarian Catherine Man indicated that due to a deformity of its plastron its sex could not be verified,[4] and is now known to be male, being renamed Frederik.[1] While Frederik was undergoing the examination, Jonathan came over and did not leave the side of Frederik and the veterinarian during the entire process.[13]

To mark Jonathan's supposed 190th birthday in February 2022, island officials planned to make a series of commemorative stamps and visitors received a certificate featuring a photograph of his first known footprint.[6]

On 4 December 2022, local residents arranged three days of Jonathan's birthday celebration, presenting a cake made entirely from his favourite healthy foods.[14]

In January 2024, Jonathan met Prince Edward, Duke of Edinburgh on his visit to St Helena. Jonathan previously met the Duke's mother Elizabeth II and grandfather George VI in 1947. Prince Philip also paid him a visit in 1957.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Jonathan the tortoise". Saint Helena Island Info. Archived from the original on 8 July 2019. Retrieved 18 July 2019.[self-published source]
  2. ^ a b c Hollins, Jonathan (8 April 2016). "Your Opinion Counts" (PDF). The St Helena Independent. Retrieved 29 July 2017.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ a b Kettle, Sally (13 March 2014). "Meet Jonathan, St Helena's 189-year-old giant tortoise". BBC News. BBC. Archived from the original on 1 October 2019. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  4. ^ a b Rogers, James (23 October 2017). "The fascinating sex life of Jonathan, the 185-year-old giant tortoise". Fox News. Fox Entertainment Group. Archived from the original on 21 September 2018. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  5. ^ Millward, Adam (27 February 2019). "Introducing Jonathan, the world's oldest animal on land at 187 years old". Guinness World Records. Archived from the original on 9 August 2020. Retrieved 14 July 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Gamillo, Elizabeth (4 February 2022). "At 190, Jonathan the Tortoise Is the World's Oldest". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 1 September 2022.
  7. ^ "St Helena - Joining the Rest of Us". BBC. Archived from the original on 14 August 2018. Retrieved 14 August 2018. Earliest known photograph of Jonathan the 189 year old tortoise, taken in 1886
  8. ^ "Oldest land animal (living)". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 1 September 2022.
  9. ^ "250-Year-Old Tortoise Dies In India". www.cbsnews.com. 24 March 2006.
  10. ^ "Queen's Baton completes busy time on St Helena" (Press release). Jamestown: Government of Saint Helena. 25 February 2014. Archived from the original on 4 January 2015. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  11. ^ Debut, Béatrice (27 November 2017). "Jonathan, St. Helena's ancient tortoise, awaits visitors". Agence France-Presse. Archived from the original on 30 November 2017 – via The Jakarta Post. [Jonathan] appears on the island's five-pence coin
  12. ^ "Giant 183-year-old tortoise given new diet". BBC News. BBC. 8 January 2016. Archived from the original on 23 July 2017. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  13. ^ a b Koslowski, Max (22 October 2017). "The Oldest Animal In The World Is Probably Gay". HuffPost Australia. HuffPost. Archived from the original on 11 April 2021. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
  14. ^ "Tortoise Celebrates its 190th Birthday as the World's Oldest Land Animal". www.goodnewsnetwork.org. 3 December 2022.
  15. ^ "Duke of Edinburgh meets oldest living terrestrial animal". www.telegraph.co.uk. 23 January 2024.

External links[edit]