The world’s oldest tortoise, a Seychelles tortoise named Jonathan from the British Isles, is also the world’s oldest living land animal. After 190 years roaming the island of Saint Helena, Jonathan recently made headlines again — something he’s been doing since he was photographed back in 1886.
Earlier this month, the Guinness World Records recognized Jonathan’s amazing longevity. In their own estimation, Guinness determined the venerable tortoise to be the oldest chelonian ever. The ‘chelonian’ designation encompasses all turtles, terrapins, and tortoises in the entire known-history of the species.
For Jonathan to surpass all of his contemporaries as the oldest tortoise ever is a shell of an accomplishment, given the species’ longevity.
“Giant tortoises generally live up to around 150 years, so he is doing very well,” said Teeny Lucy, of the St. Helena Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
How Jonathan made it to the British Isles
Jonathan first arrived at his plush island domicile as a stately 50-year-old tortoise in 1882. He was a gift from British colonial administrator and later St. Helena governor Sir William Grey-Wilson. St. Helena is a tropical island in the South Atlantic. Little did his handlers know how much time Jonathan had left on this planet.
“Jonathan was fully grown at that time [of arriving at St. Helena], which would be at least 50 years old, so his hatching year would have been about 1832,” Lucy continued. Guinness also admits that the specific age attributed to these massive chelonians is a conservative estimate based on evidence. In other words, Jonathan, the tortoise who is nearly as old as the United States, itself, is likely even older.
“Some experts have suggested that he may belong to a separate species, or subspecies, of Seychelles tortoise though this debate has yet to be settled conclusively,” Guinness officials reported.
What life looks like for an elderly tortoise
Like any fella getting up there in years, Jonathan faces a few daily health obstacles. His cataracts left him mostly blind years ago, and handlers believe he lost his sense of smell. But the elder tortoise knows his territory so well that he continues to move freely about the countryside.
“We are pretty sure that he knows the sound or feels the pressure of our footsteps. And he has a very good appetite,” Lucy added. Jonathan “enjoys carrots, lettuce (his favorite), apples, guava, bananas, cabbage, and pears once a week on Sundays,” Lucy also said.
About 13 years ago, researchers feared for Jonathan’s health a bit, as the tortoise began losing weight. Upon inspection in 2009 (when Jonathan would have been a robust 177 years old), Lucy and her team discovered that his beak was crumbly and soft. With some extra food and attention, Jonathan bounced back quickly, though.
Most importantly, Jonathan still likes to socialize with the other tortoises on the island. “Jonathan still has good libido and is seen frequently to mate,” Jonathan’s veterinarian said. What a legend.