For 140 years, Jonathan the tortoise has lived on one of the world’s most desolate islands. He’s lately become somewhat of a media celebrity since he just received the title of the world’s oldest surviving land mammal.
Jonathan will be 190 years old this year. That’s the best estimate for the 440-pound chelonian’s age.
“To be honest, I think he’s older,” said Joe Hollins, Jonathan’s veterinarian on St. Helena Island, a small volcanic British colony more than a thousand miles off the coast of Africa.
Jonathan has spent most of his life roaming (though slowly) about the grounds of Plantation House, the St. Helena governor’s mansion.
Jonathan is thought to have been born in 1832, according to the letter stating that he arrived “well-grown” to St. Helena in 1882 from the Indian Ocean’s Seychelles Islands. According to Hollins, in the context of turtles, “fully developed” requires at least 50 years.
According to Hollins, a picture taken between 1882 and 1886 shows Jonathan grazing at Plantation House, where he’d been delivered as a gift to the governor of St. Helena.
“If they weren’t eaten first, [tortoises] were pretty conventional as diplomatic presents across the globe,” he said, adding that ship crews gathered them since they were stackable and didn’t need food or water for days.
He remarked, “Apparently, they were excellent.”
Hollins also looks after the other tortoises on the ten-mile-long island, in addition to Jonathan. He also oversees the island’s cats, dogs, cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys, and pigs with a crew.
But Jonathan, as the group’s elderly guy, is unique, he remarked.
“I take tremendous pleasure in caring about him,” Hollins stated, adding that he is 126 years younger than the rare Seychelles giant tortoise he has cared for for the last 13 years at 64 years old.
“It’s a great duty, but an honor and a joy for a veterinarian to care for the world’s oldest known surviving land mammal,” he added.
According to Hollins, there are probably sharks in the water that are older than Jonathan, but he hasn’t heard of any well-documented land species that has lived through more historical events.
According to Hollins, visitors to St. Helena, which has a population of roughly 4,400 people, are astounded when they discover Jonathan’s incredible life span.
The tortoise has seen 31 governors of St. Helena come and go and President Andrew Jackson’s second inauguration in 1833. And the inaugurations of the following 39 US presidents.
“He has pottered on, entirely ignorant to the passing of time, while wars, famines, plagues, kings and queens, and even countries have come and gone,” Hollins added.
“Jonathan has earned iconic status on the island as a symbol of perseverance, endurance, and survival,” he continued.
Jonathan has lived longer than most people anticipated, according to Hollins. Giant land tortoises may live up to 150 years.
Tu’i Malila, a radiated tortoise reputedly gifted to Tonga’s royal family in 1777, held the previous recorded lifespan record. According to Guinness World Records, Tu’i Malila was about 188 years old when she died in 1965.
Jonathan’s record as the world’s oldest land animal was recently updated by Guinness, but according to his carer, the tortoise reacted to the news, in the same manner he does to most things.
“He recognizes my voice and approaches me like a dog,” Hollins said, “but I have to admit it’s more Pavlovian since he identifies me with food.”
Jonathan is now blind and has lost his sense of smell, but he still has a robust appetite.
He’s been hand-feeding the turtle carrots, cucumbers, apples, and bananas for more than a decade, using heavy welder’s gloves to protect his fingers from Jonathan’s sharp beak.
“I’ve lost two nails even through [the gloves],” Hollins remarked. “However, I like this massive, crusty reptile.” He’s a gentleman of a tortoise,” says the narrator.
According to Hollins, Jonathan was in poor condition, with a blunt, crumbly beak. And was unable to graze, who was employed as a veterinarian by the St. Helena administration.
He claimed, “He was clutching at the dirt and dried leaves and yanking at rank grass.”
“We observed a miracle after feeding him for a while: his beak regrew its sharp edge.”
According to Hollins, the tortoise had a vitamin, mineral. And trace element deficit, which was quickly addressed with a weekly feed of fresh food.
“Now that he’s been revived, we can’t stop,” he said, adding that Jonathan avoids greens but eats lettuce hearts and sun-ripened pears.
He stated that the tortoise likes sunbathing and has scared guests by laying on the grass with his four legs splayed. And his neck exposed.
“Jonathan has duped us into performing a quick visit because someone has reported him dead” on many occasions.
He admitted that the day might come when a call like that proves to be genuine.
“I’ve been here for four governors, and each one has pleaded with me, ‘Please Joe — not on my watch,'” Hollins added.
For the time being, St. Helena will order a stamp portraying Jonathan and have a national holiday in his honor in 2022, he added.
“When he does go, it will be tough”
Hollins continued, stressing that giant tortoises do not age like people and may wear out or die after an injury.
“Jonathan may still see many of us in our graves with excellent care and attention,” he remarked.