There once was a giant tortoise from the Seychelle Islands in the Indian Ocean who went to live on the other side of the world on St. Helena Island in the South Atlantic. The tortoise took up residence on St. Helena’s governor’s estate, and fifty years after his arrival, at age 100, the tortoise was dubbed “Jonathan” by one governor. Jonathan became a local icon; his likeness was stamped on St. Helena’s 5-pence coin. It sounds like a fairytale ending, but his story hasn’t concluded.
As of 2021, Jonathan is 189 years old, making him the oldest living land animal—or at least his veterinarians think so. They point to nineteenth-century evidence to support their claim. In 1890, the governor of St. Helena wrote a letter to officials in the Seychelles saying that Jonathan had landed in 1882, fully grown, which is about 50 years of age. That puts his hatching date around 1832. Recently, a photograph of Jonathan dated 1883 was uncovered, with his measurements on the reverse side. These measurements are the same today, so that’s good confirmation of Jonathan’s age.Today, Jonathan can no longer see nor smell. Yet, he still has excellent hearing. He devours a healthy diet of fruits and seasonal vegetables, and he clamps his strong beak on whatever is in reach. He has a healthy libido to boot, which is a sign of sound internal health. Most importantly, three other giant tortoises keep Jonathan company, so he is never lonely, even on a remote island in the middle of the ocean.