Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Jonathan the 191-year-old tortoise, happy birthday to you! The world’s oldest living land animal, a Seychelles giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa) named Jonathan, who has captured hearts across the world with his longevity and antics, has reached the grand old age of 191.
In doing so he breaks his own Guinness World Record as the world’s oldest chelonian. Chelonian is the old name for animals belonging to the order Chelonia, now called Testudines (because zoologists love renaming things), which refers to reptiles that are either turtles, tortoises, or terrapins.
Jonathan's life story is a fascinating one. While we celebrate his birthday, nobody knows the exact date on which he hatched. It’s thought that he came into the world around 1832, and was gifted to the future governor of Saint Helena, Sir William Grey-Wilson, in 1882 as a fully grown adult tortoise, which would have made him around 50 years old at the time.
In 2022, Jonathan was granted an official birthday, by the now governor of Saint Helena Nigel Philippes – December 4, 1832. Despite his advanced age, his vet Joe Hollins told Guinness World Records (GWR) that he lives life with a healthy appetite.
“In spite of losing his sense of smell and being virtually blind from cataracts, his appetite remains keen,” Hollins told GWR. “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.”
Jonathan enjoys his meals in the company of three other tortoises, David, Emma, and Fred, in the gardens of Plantation House. This is the official home of Saint Helena's governor and where the elderly tortoise has lived for most of his life. David and Emma joined him in 1969, while Fred became part of the group in 1991. Initially, Fred was believed to be a female (originally called Frederika), but after persistent mating attempts from Jonathan, was discovered to be a male. Hollins says Jonathan still frequently tries to mate with both Emma and Fred. “Animals are often not particularly gender-sensitive!” Hollins said.
In his 191 years, he has lived through the invention of the lightbulb, the first flight by the Wright brothers, and the first people on the Moon, not to mention the terms of 40 US presidents.
“It is extraordinary to think that this gentle giant has outlived every other living creature on land, including, of course, the whole human race,” Hollins said to GWR. “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 birthday, Jonathan!