Oldest chelonian
Who
Jonathan, Seychelles giant tortoise
What
190 year(s)
Where
Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha (St Helena)
When
2022

The oldest tortoise or turtle (order Chelonia, or Testudines), and in fact the oldest known land animal overall, is Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa), originally from the Seychelles but now a long-time resident of the remote South Atlantic island of St Helena. He is believed to have been born c. 1832, thus making him 190 years old in 2022. His age has been reliably estimated from the fact that he was said to be "fully mature" (and hence at least 50 years old) when he arrived on the island in 1882. As his age on arrival is a conservative estimate, in all likelihood he is even older.


Direct evidence supporting his estimated age came to light when an old photograph taken between 1882 and 1886 was uncovered that showed a fully grown Jonathan munching on grass with several local "St Helenians" in the garden of Plantation – the residence of the island's governor and where Jonathan resides to this day.

Having studied Jonathan's shell, some experts have suggested that he may belong to a separate species, or subspecies, of Seychelles tortoise though this debate has yet to be settled conclusively.

Jonathan has lived through many major events in modern-day history. When he was born in 1832, William IV was Britain's king. Queen Victoria, who was 13, would not accede to the throne until Jonathan was five. When Jonathan was two, Britain abolished slavery. When he was nine, missionary and explorer David Livingstone sailed for Africa, discovering a spectacular waterfall that he named Victoria Falls when the giant tortoise was 23. When Jonathan was 10, the Mines Act was passed, forbidding women and children to work underground. Lewis Carroll's beloved children's novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was first published in 1865 when Jonathan was 33. It wasn’t until Jonathan was 35 that antiseptics were first used during surgery, and it wasn’t until he was 71 that the women’s suffrage movement was formed, three years after the turn of the 20th century. In total, Jonathan’s amazingly lengthy life has so far spanned seven British monarchs, 53 British prime ministers and 40 US presidents.

Prior to this, the greatest age recorded for a chelonian was 188 years for a Madagascar radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) that was presented to the Tonga royal family by British explorer Captain James Cook in either 1773 or 1777. The animal was called Tui Malila and remained in their care until its death in 1965.