Who is Jonathan the Tortoise, the Oldest Known Living Animal on Earth?

September 08, 2021 12:03 PM

Tortoises live very long, that much is known to many but Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise is perhaps the oldest known living land animal. Jonathan, who lives on the island of Saint Helena, a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic Ocean has seen two world wars, the Great Depression, the deadly Spanish flu and now the coronavirus and yet continues to thrive at the island.

Originally from Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, he was brought to the South Atlantic island back in 1882 with three other tortoises when he was 50 years old. Jonathan was named in the 1930s by Governor of Saint Helena Sir Spencer Davis and is now 189 years old.

A Seychelles giant Tortoise, Jonathan lives on the grounds of Plantation House, the official residence of the governor of St Helena and is taken care of by the authorities there. The tortoise’s age was estimated so because records say he was ‘fully mature’ when brought to Saint Helena in 1882. ‘Fully mature’ means at least 50 years old and thus reaffirms that Jonathan was definitely not born later than 1832.

Jonathan is also featured in the Guinness Book of Record. Born circa 1832, the tortoise is even older than the Eiffel Tower, which was completed in 1887. Tortoise of Jonathan’s species, which are a sub species of the Aldabra giant Tortoise were once thought to have been extinct but have been recorded to about 80 in numbers globally, according to IUCN.

Although Jonathan has surpassed his usual average lifespan of 150 years, his veterinarian says the gentle animal is still very healthy, apart from a some age-related issues. He is almost blind in eyes due to cataracts and may have lost all sense of smell, but is still with very good hearing skills.

Although not yet properly researched, scientists have a few theories about what makes the tortoises tick so long, long after humans and others with sizeable lifespans have passed on. A recent study looked at substances that lead to cell damage and death and also took into account cells of turtle species, including from a giant tortoise, just like Jonathan. It revealed that these animals have the ability to protect themselves from the long-term effects of cell damage by quickly killing off damaged cells, using a process called apoptosis, thus increasing their life expectancy.

Coming back to Jonathan, the giant tortoise is not the only famous resident of the island. St Helena is usually best known as the place where Napoleon Bonaparte lived out his final days in exile after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Jonathan is not the only famous super old tortoise. The tortoise named ‘Tu’i Malila’ so far holds the Guinness record of oldest animal on land which died in Tonga in 1966 at the age of 189. ‘Adwaita’ was another Aldabra giant tortoise that died in 2006 in the Alipore Zoological Gardens of Kolkata in India and many believed he was even 255 years, although that is disputed.


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