It’s not every day you get to celebrate someone’s 190th birthday — in fact we’re pretty sure it’s never happened before.
That is, until this past weekend, when Jonathan — the oldest tortoise in recorded history and the world’s oldest living land mammal — celebrated the big 190 with a big celebration.
The South Atlantic island of St. Helena, where Jonathan has resided since way back in 1882, has been holding festivities for the world-famous tortoise all year.
While Jonathan’s exact birthday isn’t known, they chose December 4 as his birthday and held a three-day celebration over the weekend.
Jonathan, who resides in the island’s governor’s mansion, is St. Helena’s most famous resident and biggest celebrity. His face has been featured on stamps and a five pence coin.
“Jonathan is an icon here,” Teeny Lucy , the chairperson for the local SPCA, told The Dodo. “He is a grand old gentleman who has seen it all. He landed on St. Helena in 1882 as a fully grown adult; he has seen generations of people coming and going.”
His remarkably long life has earned him two major distinctions: in 2019, when he was 187, he was officially declared the world’s oldest living land animal by Guinness World Records.
And earlier this year, Jonathan was declared the oldest tortoise ever. In a press release from January 12, Jonathan was declared by Guinness the “oldest chelonian,” which includes all tortoises, turtles and terrapins.
He has unseated the previous record-holder, Tu’i Malila, who lived to be at least 188 until its death in 1965.
“Being the oldest land animal in the world, he has almost royal status here,” Lucy added. “He is dignified and interacts in a friendly way as long as people move slowly around him. We are all very fond of him.”
Jonathan is at least 190 years old, but possibly even older. His age estimate comes from his arrival at Saint Helena from the Seychelles in 1882: he was described as “fully mature,” which means he was at least 50 at the time. Thus, his birth year was 1832, at the latest.
It’s hard to even comprehend how long a life Jonathan has lived: In his birth year of 1832, Andrew Jackson was the US president and Queen Victoria was England’s reigning monarch. His life encompasses the Civil War and both World Wars; he lived decades before the invention of flight and was already 137 when man first walked on the moon.
It’s safe to say that if tortoises could talk, Jonathan would have plenty of stories to tell.
Despite being nearly two centuries old, Jonathan is still in relatively good shape. He is blind and has no sense of smell, but he still has the appetite (and the libido) of a younger tortoise.
“His hearing though is excellent and he loves the company of humans, and responds well to his vet Joe Hollins’ voice as he associates him with a feast,” the St. Helena Government told Guinness.
“He loves banana, but it tends to gum up his mouth. Lettuce hearts, though not very nutritious, are a favourite,” added Jonathan’s vet, Joe Hollins, saying the tortoise also likes cabbage, cucumber, apples and other fruits.
Hollins also said that Jonathan is “seen frequently to mate” with his fellow tortoises Emma and Fred.
The world has changed a lot in the past 190 years, but Jonathan stays the same. He’s brought joy to generations of locals — and perhaps he’ll be around for many years to come.
“He is a local icon, symbolic of persistence in the face of change,” Hollins said.