This is an old version of from June 2010, which is for curiosity purposes only.
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Jonathan the tortoise

The world’s oldest resident?

Skip to:  So how old is Jonathan, really?  What type of tortoise is he?  Why 'Jonathan'?  An interview with Jonathan?

So how old is Jonathan, really?

Jonathan the tortoise (apparently) in a 1900 photograph
Jonathan the tortoise (apparently) in a 1900 photograph.

Naturally, nobody is really sure. Tortoises don't carry a 'date of manufacture' mark and the colonial government of St. Helena had other more pressing things to worry about than tortoises.

However, the belief is that he was brought to the island aged about 50 back in 1882, which would make his date of birth 1832.  Only he knows his actual age and he isn't saying (though what he does say is recorded below).

Stories abound here that he met St. Helena's other famous resident Napoleon Bonaparte.  But unless Jonathan's age and arrival date have been misrecorded by more than sixty years this cannot be true, which is sad because the idea of the former conqueror of most of Europe chatting away to a tortoise is appealing.

He was always famous on St. Helena, but came to world media attention in 2008 when the UK Daily Mail newspaper ran a story using this old photograph, taken in 1900 and showing what it said is Jonathan with a Boer prisoner and his escort, stating that at 176 he was the world's oldest living animal.  The St. Helena Independent carried a version of the story, including quotes from local people speculating about Jonathan's age and the reasons for his longevity.  (More about this below.)

So how old is Jonathan, really?  Why not come and examine him for yourself?  Maybe if you offer him some lettuce he'll share his secrets with you.

What type of tortoise is he?

Jonathan the tortoise in a 2008 photograph

According to Jonathan's Wikipedia article (yes, he's famous enough to feature), "Jonathan is a Seychelles Giant tortoise (Dipsochelys hololissa)".  It goes on to say that "The [Daily Mail] article erroneously stated that Jonathan was of the species Testudinipae cytodira. This is nonsensical, and appears to be a double misspelling as well as a reference not to his species, but rather to his family, Testudinidae and genus, Cryptodira respectively.".

However if you look up the Wikipendia page for Dipsochelys Hololissa it states that the Sechelles Giant Tortoise is extinct, although it does mention that

"it has been suggested that some Seychelles island tortoises (12 known individuals) survive in captivity. The report of oddly-shaped captive tortoises prompted The Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles to examine the identity of the living tortoises. Examination of museum specimens of the 'extinct' Seychelles species by Dr. Justin Gerlach and Laura Canning seemed to show that some living tortoises possess characteristics of the extinct species. However, recently published scientific papers on the genetics of the Seychelles and Indian Ocean tortoises provide conflicting results. Some studies suggest only one species was present historically but others support the presence of three, closely related species.".

An examination (by a visiting vet in June 2009) of Jonathan's rear end may have settled the matter.  Apparently his ‘anal scut’ (a part of his shell at the rear end) is not divided which makes him definitely a Seychelles Giant tortoise - at least until the next expert arrives.

Again, only Jonathan really knows about his ancestry.

Why 'Jonathan'?

Why not?  It is thought that he was nameless for the most part of his residence in St. Helena and was named by Governor Sir Spencer Davis, who served from 1932-1938.  Why Sir Spencer chose the name Jonathan is not recorded.  Indeed, if Google is to be believed, naming Jonathan was Sir Spencer's sole contribution to St. Helena - it certainly seems to be the only thing for which Sir Spencer is noted.

An interview with Jonathan?

To quote from the St. Helena Independent's December 2008 article: "Saint FM asked Governor Andrew Gurr whether we could have an exclusive interview with Jonathan. The answer was ‘no use - he doesn't say much - He only groans when he is mating’" (are governors allowed to say things like that?), allowing The Independent to lead with the picture below:

Headline for St. Helena Independent's December 2008 article

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This is an old version of from June 2010, which is for curiosity purposes only.
To see the up-to-date version of this page go to