Jonathan, oldest-ever tortoise and oldest living land mammal, turns 191 — happy birthday

Jonathan, oldest-ever tortoise and oldest living land mammal, turns 191 — happy birthday

Some animals are blessed with long lives that surpass the average life expectancy. A lucky few even hold the distinction of being the oldest member of their species.

Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise, is perhaps the most famous long-living animal in the world. He holds the distinction of not only being the oldest living land mammal in the world, but the oldest tortoise ever.

Now, this incredible animal is celebrating a milestone few could even dream of: his 191st birthday!

Wikimedia Commons

Jonathan’s exact birthday is unknown, but according to Guinness World Records, he’s now recognized as being 191 years old. Officials in Saint Helena, the island he calls home, marked the occasion of his 190th birthday last December.

Jonathan’s remarkable age is a conservative estimate; it is likely that he is even older. The estimate comes from his arrival at Saint Helena from the Seychelles in 1882: he was described as “fully mature,” which means he was at least 50 at the time. Thus, his birth year was 1832, at the latest.

While tortoises are known for their long lifespans — it’s common for them to live past 100 — Jonathan has surpassed the life expectancy of his species and set some very impressive world records along the way.

Jonathan (left) with another tortoise in 1886 (Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

In 2019, at the age of 187, he was officially declared the world’s oldest living land animal by Guinness World Records. And last year, shortly after turning 190, he was named the “oldest chelonian,” which includes all tortoises, turtles and terrapins, unseating the previous record-holder, Tu’i Malila, who lived to be at least 188 until its death in 1965.

It’s hard to even comprehend how long a life Jonathan has lived: In his birth year of 1832, Andrew Jackson was the US president and Queen Victoria was England’s reigning monarch. His life encompasses the Civil War and both World Wars; he lived decades before the invention of flight and was already 137 when man first walked on the moon. If he could talk, he’d have quite a story to tell.

And even after living through so much history, Jonathan is still going strong and enjoying life. He’s a beloved celebrity in Saint Helena, where he resides on the official grounds of the Governor.

Giant tortoise Jonathan estimated 150 to 200 years at Plantation House St Helena Island

“Jonathan is an icon here,” Teeny Lucy , the chairperson for the local SPCA, told The Dodo. “He is a grand old gentleman who has seen it all. He landed on St. Helena in 1882 as a fully grown adult; he has seen generations of people coming and going.”

“Being the oldest land animal in the world, he has almost royal status here,” she added. “He is dignified and interacts in a friendly way as long as people move slowly around him. We are all very fond of him.”

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And even two centuries on, Jonathan shows “no sign of slowing down” and is relatively healthy, his vets say.

“In spite of losing his sense of smell and being virtually blind from cataracts, his appetite remains keen,” vet Joe Hollins told Guinness. “He is still being hand-fed once a week with a fortifying helping of fruit and vegetables by a small, dedicated team. This not only supplements his calories but provides those essential drivers of his metabolism: vitamins, minerals, and trace elements.”

“It is extraordinary to think that this gentle giant has outlived every other living creature on land, including of course the whole human race,” he added. “Jonathan is in good health and all the indications at present make us hopeful that he will reach his third century – if indeed he hasn’t done so already!”

Happy 191st birthday to Jonathan, the oldest living land mammal and oldest tortoise in history! We wish this incredible creature many more happy years (and decades!)

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