split image of Jonathan the tortoise

Jonathan, the world’s oldest living land animal, is now 191 years old.

He is believed to have been born c. 1832, based on the fact that he was fully mature (and hence at least 50 years old) when he was brought from the Seychelles to the island of St Helena in 1882.

His age is a conservative estimate, meaning he is probably even older than we think.

Jonathan is a Seychelles giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa) and has far surpassed his species’ average life expectancy of 150 years.

In fact, Jonathan is the oldest turtle/chelonian in recorded history, having taken the title in 2021 from Tu’i Malila (c. 1777–1965), a radiated tortoise that lived to be at least 188.

Jonathan is showing “no sign of slowing down,” according to his long-time vet, Joe Hollins.

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

“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.

“It is extraordinary to think that this gentle giant has outlived every other living creature on land, including of course the whole human race.

“Jonathan is in good health and all the indications at present make us hopeful that he will reach his third century – if indeed he hasn’t done so already!”

Jonathan (left) c.1882-86, on the grounds of Plantation House, St Helena

Jonathan in November 2023

Jonathan has lived at Plantation House, the residence of St Helena’s governor, ever since he arrived on the island 141 years ago.

He’s been alive throughout many major milestones in human history, such as the passing of the UK's Mines Act in 1842, which forbade women and children from working underground; the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859; and the USA’s abolishment of slavery in 1865, just over a century before they put a man on the moon.

Jonathan’s lengthy life has so far spanned the reigns of eight British monarchs, 40 US presidents, and 26 Manchester United managers.

He is a local icon, symbolic of persistence in the face of change – Joe Hollins


Though the world around him may have changed a great deal over the years, Jonathan has remained largely the same.

A typical day in his life is “very relaxed,” Joe said.

“He enjoys the sun, but on very hot days takes to the shade. On mild days, he will sunbathe – his long neck and legs stretched fully out of his shell to absorb heat and transfer it to his core.

“On cold winter days, he will dig himself into leaf mould or grass clippings and remain there all day.”

Jonathan with mouth open


Jonathan lives with three other giant tortoises: David and Emma, who arrived in 1969 and are both approximately 55 years old, and Frederik, who joined in 1991 and is now aged 32.

Frederik used to be named Frederika, as he was thought be a female due to Jonathan’s frequent attempts at mating with him, but he was later discovered to be a male.

Despite Jonathan’s old age, he still has “good libido” and still attempts to mate with both Emma and Fred.

“Animals are often not particularly gender-sensitive!” Joe said.

Jonathan and his birthday cake

Jonathan’s favourite foods include cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce hearts, apples, and other seasonal fruits. He especially enjoys bananas, though they tend to “gum up” his mouth.

Last year, he feasted on a birthday cake made from some of his favourite snacks, as seen in the above image. 

As he edges ever closer to reaching three centuries on Earth, we hope Jonathan continues to enjoy good health, good food, and lots of cuddles from Emma and Fred!

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