Residing in a pampered luxury on the remote British island of St. Helena, Jonathan the giant tortoise is the island’s most famous resident.
Aged at least 186, he slowly roams the lush gardens of the governor’s house, eating carrots, lettuce, cucumber, apples and pears prepared in the governor’s kitchen. He is a tourist attraction worth traveling a long way to see.
Though Jonathan is widely believed to be the world’s oldest land animal, he still has some time to go before beating the current record for the oldest reptile, which is 189 years.
Jonathan’s life may be long, but it hasn’t been easy. Jonathan originates from the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean. In 1882, the tortoise was given as a gift to the governor of St. Helena.
Jonathan was about 50 years old when he arrived. Since then, younger companions including Emma, David, and Frederica, have joined him. But as Aldabra giant tortoises, they’re unable to mate with Jonathan.
When younger and more agile, Jonathan was known for disrupting croquet matches on the governor’s lawn and for going under tables at tea parties. Nowadays, the “brittle old gentleman” is blind from cataracts and has lost his sense of smell. But the tortoise still has excellent hearing, in good health, and is already far beyond his life expectancy of 150 years.
Jonathan has been in a relationship with fellow tortoise Frederica for close to three decades. Frederica arrived in 1991 as a gift from the French consul to the governor of St. Helena and has been Jonathan’s mate ever since.
But handlers eventually discovered that fair Frederica was actually male, which finally explained why the two lovebirds never had baby tortoises.
Tourists are able to visit Jonathan and his companions on a weekly commercial flight from Johannesburg – the island’s only link to the outside world other than by ship gave St. Helena as one of the most remote places on Earth, located 1,200 miles from the African mainland. Visitors may view the tortoises from a designated “corridor” to ensure they are left largely undisturbed.
Although Jonathan is expected to be around for many more years to come, there has already been a plan for when he finally dies. His obituary has already been prepared and his shell will be preserved for posterity.