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Jonathan, World’s Oldest Living Land Animal, Turns 191 Years Old

Guinness World Records announced on X that the giant tortoise, Jonathan, is the oldest living animal alive

Jonathan, age 190, in 2022
Jonathan, age 190, in 2022. Image: YouTube/St Helena Tourism

Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise, turned 191 years old this year! This milestone makes Jonathan the oldest living land animal in the world.

Though Jonathan’s exact birthday remains unknown, scientists have estimated the tortoise was born around 1832. At 50, he was gifted to Sir William Grey-Wilson, who later became governor of St. Helena, by Seychelles. Now, he resides with caretaker Teeny Lucy on an island in St. Helena.

Jonathan was granted an official birthday of December 4th, 1832, by current governor Nigel Phillips, but the tortoise may even be older. His age was discovered after a photograph picturing a giant tortoise in 1900 was uncovered. It was then determined the photo was of Jonathan, who was around 70 at the time of the photo.

Further proof of his age comes from the fact Jonathan was fully grown when gifted to Sir William. This was in 1882, and a fully grown tortoise is at least 50 years old.

About the Species

More than 152,000 of these reptiles roam Aldabra today. They are the largest species of land tortoises, weighing as much as 550 pounds and growing over a meter long. On average, the species’ lifespan ranges between 80 to 120 years old, but can live much longer.

The Seychelles giant tortoise is a subspecies of the Aldabra giant tortoise, named after the large atoll in Seychelles, home to these large creatures. Unfortunately, due to excessive harvesting for food, the reptile has become officially classified as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Adwaita, a male tortoise, who lived to be 255.
Addwaita, a 250 year-old male giant tortoise. Credit: YouTube/ Forward Smile

Jonathan’s Lifestyle

Since his first arrival on the island, Jonathan has spent his life primarily in the gardens of the governor’s residence, The Plantation. He is accompanied by three other giant tortoises: Emma, Fred, and David.

With age, Jonathan has lost both his sight and smell. Despite this, the tortoise shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. He still has an active libido and is fed plenty of fruits and vegetables.

When Johnathan’s veterinarian, Joe Hollins, first met the tortoise, his condition deteriorated. He had multiple deficiencies due to his beak becoming blunt and unable to graze properly. Since then, he has greatly recovered and remains in good health.

Conservation of the Species

In recent decades, the conservation of giant tortoises has risen as the species become more endangered. Aside from being adorable and a tourist attraction, the reptiles are crucial to the environment.

These herbivores eat all kinds of vegetation and plant large quantities of seeds through their manure. Furthermore, the species helps uncover food for other animals when tracking through leaves.

Since its endangerment, the Seychelles species of giant tortoises are limited to just two islands in Seychelles: Cousin and Silhouette. In an attempt to disperse the turtles to other islands across Seychelles, conservationists have begun collecting eggs among the two islands. They then incubate the eggs until they hatch before releasing them into the wild on other islands.

Additionally, the Seychelles Wildlife Society works to educate the public on the importance of these reptiles. As of 2001, the organization also established three reserve sites to nurture and protect the species from human activity.

Jonathan’s Legacy

Jonathan has lived through multiple generations of people. Within his community, he is a bit of a celebrity. He even makes an appearance on the island’s five pence coins!

The tortoise, who also broke the record for the oldest chelonian ever, has appeared on several television programs, celebrating his birthday. He also serves as a host to tourists visiting the island. He even had the opportunity to meet Queen Elizabeth back when she was still a princess.

When Jonathan isn’t celebrating his birthday, he likes to live a quiet life with his fellow tortoises as well as his caretakers, whose voices he now recognizes.

The gentle giant started off as a gift to one governor, a common diplomatic gift in the 19th century. Now, he is the gift that keeps on giving to locals and tourists alike.

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