Jonathan, an inimitable Seychelles Giant Tortoise, was recently distinguished with the Guinness World Record for being the world’s oldest animal to walk, or rather sprawl, on Earth.
At the approximate age of 187 in 2019, it means the tortoise was born circa 1832 when the world did not yet have the telephone, photography, nor even the light bulb.
Born on the small African island nation of the Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean, Jonathan was relocated to a new home in 1882, at the age of around 50. He was moved to the tropical island of St. Helena, a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic, as a gift to St. Helena’s Plantation House, the official residence of the island’s Governor.
Jonathan has shared his home with several other tortoises there, both males and females. However, he has not produced an offspring as no mating match is among the female tortoises.
The females belong to the Aldabra giant tortoise group, different from Jonathan’s kin. In the bunch is also David, who at only 80 years of age is not even half the age of his older pal.
The average life expectancy of Seychelles giant tortoises is around 150 years. But at 187-years-old, Jonathan is very close to stealing the title of oldest ever reptile of the order Testudines, which includes all tortoises, turtles, and terrapins.
This title is currently held by Tu’i Malila, a radiated Madagascar-born tortoise that Captain James Cook gifted to the Tonga royal family and who lived from 1776/1777 until 1965 (or at least 188 years of age).
At the Plantation House, Jonathan has come to enjoyed something of a celebrity status. Visitors regularly pose for a picture with him.
Old age has left Jonathan’s vision and smell impaired, though his overall health is quite good. He is also nourished with foods appropriate for his age — fruits and vegetables including apples, cucumbers and carrots. A diet of only leaves and grass found on the ground is considered not so healthy for advance-aged tortoises.
To put a wider perspective on how long Jonathan has lived: he would have hatched some six years before Queen Victoria was crowned the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in 1838, when she was just 19.
Jonathan outlived her reign and those of the next four monarchs — Edward VII, George V, Edward VII and George VI. The chances are he might even outlive the current reigning Queen of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth realms, Elizabeth II.
Guinness World Records, which acknowledged Jonathan as the world’s oldest animal on land at the end of February this year, further notes that “his estimated year of birth also predates the release of the Penny Black, the first postage stamp (1840), the building of the first skyscraper (1885) and the completion of the Eiffel Tower (1887) — the tallest iron structure.”
Jonathan’s current status as the oldest terrestrial animal means he has also “outlived the oldest person ever by around 65 years.” The distinction of which falls to a French woman, Jeanne Calment, born in 1875 and who died in 1997 at the age of 122 years and 144 days.
Once he dies, the government of St. Helena is set to greatly honor the life and times of Jonathan. In a treatment equal to any famous and important person in the world, an obituary reflecting his life will be distributed to news agencies.
There is also a rumor that his shell will be preserved and that a sculpture depicting Jonathan will be erected in Jamestown, the capital of St. Helena.
Jonathan is one of the few remaining Seychelles giant tortoises, a subspecies to the Aldabra giant tortoise. They were hunted to near extinction by European sailors back in the 19th century. A small surviving population is maintained under a breeding program on Silhouette Island in the Seychelles archipelago.
Quite the contrary, the Aldabra giant tortoises are abundant. They number around 150,000 on Seychelles’ island of Aldabra, which is a greater count than the population of people on the islands. The Seychelles only has 94,000 human residents.
Besides Jonathan, the island of St. Helena is famous for Napoleon Bonaparte who, after losing his grip on power in 1815, was exiled to the remote island where he passed away in 1821.