At 191, Jonathan the tortoise is the world’s oldest land animal

Jonathan the giant tortoise
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Age makes us all move a little slower, but the world’s oldest living land animal is at least used to the pace. The title is held by a Seychelles giant tortoise by the name of Jonathan, who just reached the estimated age of 191 this year — a milestone even for his long-lived species.

The 400-pound tortoise is something of a celebrity at his home on St. Helena Island, a British territory off the coast of southwest Africa. He roams the grounds of the governor’s mansion, cared for by a veterinarian named Joe Hollins, who was interviewed by The Washington Post.

“It astounds me to think there is no living creature on the surface of this planet that was in existence before him,” Hollins said.

Boy visits with Jonathan the giant tortoise
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That doesn’t count creatures below the surface of the ocean, however, since the story notes that Greenland sharks can be expected to reach the age of 250 (carbon dating has put the lifespan of a female of the species, found as bycatch in a fisherman’s net, at 272-512 years old). Still, Jonathan’s age beats the life expectancy of the average giant tortoise by more than 40 years.

Jonathan actually holds two Guinness World Records: one for oldest land animal and one for oldest chelonian (turtles, terrapins, tortoises) ever. His entry on the Guinness World Records site notes that his age is actually a conservative estimate and that he may in fact be older than 191. Age has taken its toll, and while Jonathan has lost his vision and sense of smell, he still gets around by hearing and even tries to mate with other tortoises on the island.

While the exact date of Jonathan’s hatching is not known for sure, the current St. Helena governor gave him the unofficial birth date of Dec. 4, 1832. Records show that he was taken from the Seychelles Islands in 1882, and archive photos show Jonathan grazing on St. Helena in the late 1800s, as you can see in this video from the Guinness World Records Facebook page. He was already an adult at the time.

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Today, around 1,500 tourists visit St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean each year, mainly to see Jonathan and his companions on the mansion grounds — a trio of spring-chicken tortoises in their 50s. The island’s currency even honors their famous resident with a likeness of Jonathan on the five-pence coin.

Animals, Curiosity, Science & Nature, Wild Animals
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About the Author
Tod Caviness
Tod covered everything from nightlife to Orlando's literary scene (yes, it has one) during his 11 years with the Orlando Sentinel. These days, he's a freelance journalist and recovering poet who lives in Central Florida with his lovely wife, two brilliant kids and one underachieving dog.

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