Meet The Oldest Tortoise Ever

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Jonathan the giant tortoise

Jonathan the giant tortoise on St Helena. CC BY

Meet Jonathan, the Seychelles giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa), who turns 191 years in December 2023. No one really knows in which year he was born but when he was first photographed in 1886 he was mature and estimates suggests his birth year to be 1832 or earlier. In 2022, the he was granted an official birthday of December 4, 1832, by St. Helena Governor Nigel Phillips—but experts say he’s likely even older. Before turning 191 years of age, he was already the oldest living land animal, but now he is the oldest chelonian ever (a category which include turtles, tortoises, and terrapins). Seychelles giant tortoises (Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa) generally have an average life expectancy of 150 years.

Jonathan (left tortoise) photographed circa 1882-1886 at the governor's residence in St. Helena. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Jonathan (left) photographed circa 1882-1886 at the governor’s residence in St. Helena. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Jonathan lives on the island of St Helena (where Napoleon was incarcerated and died), in the gardens of the governor’s residence. He arrived on the island from the Seychelles when he was already 50 years old and since then he has outlasted 32 governors of St  Helena and 40 US presidents. His lifespan makes him older than electricity, cars and telephones.

Jonathan lives a quiet life on St Helena, munching on the grass and being hand-fed once a week on cabbages, cucumbers, carrots, and apples. He also has three companions called David, Emma, and Fred.

Jonathan’s longtime veterinarian Joe Hollins told Guinness World Records (GWR) the reptile shows “no sign of slowing down.”

“In spite of losing his sense of smell and being virtually blind from cataracts, his appetite remains keen,” Hollins said 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.”

Furthermore, “In spite of his age, Jonathan still has a good libido and is seen frequently to mate with Emma and sometimes Fred,” Hollins told GWR. “Animals are often not particularly gender-sensitive.”



He even has a 5p coin with his image on it!


According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, Seychelles giant tortoises may have been extirpated from the wild in the 1800s. They were historically, threatened by exploitation for food and export. Now, however, inbreeding is their greatest threat. There were only 37 adult tortoises that remained in 2011—including only one breeding female—though dozens of juveniles of both sexes had been bred in captivity.

It is also not clear whether they are genetically different from another species, the Aldabra tortoise according to IUCN. Some consider the two a single species, though they have morphological differences.


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I am a Chartered Environmentalist from the Royal Society for the Environment, UK and co-owner of DoLocal Digital Marketing Agency Ltd, with a Master of Environmental Management from Yale University, an MBA in Finance, and a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Mathematics. I am passionate about science, history and environment and love to create content on these topics.

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