Jonathan the tortoise was a little hatchling in the year 1832.
Back then, the globe was a completely different place; the lamp had yet to be conceived, and vehicles were still a half-century away. Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise, survived to witness it all.
He celebrated his 190th birthday this weekend with a “cake” made of fresh veggies and the distinction of world’s oldest-known animal. But, while the world around him has changed dramatically, Jonathan is still living a relaxed life on the secluded South Atlantic island of St. Helena, where he’s resided since the late 1880s.
Teeny Lucy, the local SPCA’s chairman, is one of his primary caregivers. Jonathan resides on the verdant grounds of the ancient governor’s palace, where Lucy and others pay him weekly visits with fresh vegetables.
“Jonathan is a legend in our town,” Lucy told The Dodo in 2019. “He is a wonderful old gentleman who has seen everything. He arrived in St. Helena as an adult in 1882 and has witnessed generations of people come and depart.”
Many people have been amazed by Jonathan’s longevity, according to Lucy. His pals in the estate include three other gigantic tortoises, David, Emma, and Fred; the second-oldest tortoise is his friend, 82-year-old David.
Jonathan is most likely completely blind and has lost his sense of smell, yet he gets around rather well. He usually spends his days sunbathing, eating on grass, and relaxing with his tortoise pals.
“Despite his age, Jonathan still has high libido and is seen regularly to mate with Emma and sometimes Fred,” one of Jonathan’s vets, Joe Hollins, told the Guinness Book of World Records. “Animals aren’t always attentive to gender.”
It’s a pretty quiet existence for someone of his position; his likeness is even on the reverse of the little island’s five penny currency.
“As the world’s oldest land mammal, he has practically regal status here,” Lucy explained. “He is respectful and kind as long as people walk gently around him. We’re all big fans of him.”
Jonathan is a joyful and gregarious man, but he started having medical problems a few years ago. Fortunately, a simple diet modification was all that was required, and he is now back in terrific form and still going strong, according to Lucy.
“We began feeding Jonathan weekly a few years ago to augment his grass diet and improve his nutrition,” she explained. “This was due to the island vet seeing that his beak (with which he scythes grass) was fragile and crumbly, as well as that he was too chilly and had lost weight. All of that has changed, and he is now as fit as a violin!”
Jonathan being presented with his 190th birthday cake at Plantation House today. Delivered to him by the wonderful staff of Plantation that care for him for a day-to-day.#Jonathan #birthday #sthelenaisland pic.twitter.com/DxnOPYroNT
— St Helena Tourism (@sthelenatourism) December 4, 2022
While Jonathan has had his fair share of caregivers over the years, it is evident that he enjoys them all the same – as long as they bring him his favorite snacks of cabbage, cucumber, carrots, and seasonal fruit.
“He recognizes my voice and the vet’s voice and reacts by going toward us,” Lucy explained. “The meal is everything!”