At 190, Jonathan Is Officially The Oldest Tortoise Ever


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

Jonathan the tortoise.

Jonathan the tortoise, seen here stomping around the grounds of Plantation House on Saint Helena. Image credit: Snapper Nick/

Stop the presses, it's official: Jonathan is the oldest tortoise ever.

Jonathan, who is already famously the world's oldest living animal, is celebrating his 190th birthday in 2022 and that means Guinness World Records has officially declared him the oldest tortoise ever recorded. 


Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa), takes this prestigious crown away from Tu’i Malila, a radiated tortoise that died at the age of 188 in 1965. Technically, his official record title is oldest chelonian, an order of shelled reptiles that includes all turtles, terrapins, and tortoises.

"He is a local icon, symbolic of persistence in the face of change," his vet Joe Hollins said in a statement

No one is quite sure of his precise age. After all, Victorian bureaucrats weren’t too hot on birth certificates for tortoises back in the day. However, if anything, he is even older than thought. Jonathan is commonly believed to have been born in 1832. This is based on an old photograph that shows when he arrived in Saint Helena, a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic Ocean, from the Seychelles in 1882. In the photo, Jonathan appears to be fully mature and so likely at least 50 years old, suggesting he was born in at least 1832.

Jonathan is still plodding around the same grounds of Plantation House, the residence of the Governor of Saint Helena, where he's living out his golden years alongside three other giant tortoises: David, Emma, and Fred.


Let’s take a moment to appreciate just how old Jonathan is. He was a young whippersnapper when the first photograph of a person was taken in 1838 and a large adult when the first telephone call was made in 1876. He’s lived through 39 US presidents and was born before Queen Victoria took to the British throne.

In fact, Jonathan only narrowly missed out on meeting Napoleon, who was exiled to Saint Helena after he was defeated by the British at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Napoleon was held on the island until his death in 1821, just 11 years before Jonathan was born and 61 years before he arrived in Saint Helena. 

Jonathan has lived a cushy life at the governor's house on the tropical island (he's seen 31 come and go), but it sounds like this icon is starting to feel his age. He is now blind and has no sense of smell, so he has to be fed by hand by Hollins each week, though his hearing is still excellent. Nevertheless, the aging tortoise has not lost his spark. 

"In spite of his age, Jonathan still has good libido and is seen frequently to mate with Emma and sometimes Fred," Hollins revealed. 


"He loves banana, but it tends to gum up his mouth. Lettuce hearts, though not very nutritious, are a favorite." 

Enjoy your retirement, Jonathan, you've earned it. 


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