Estimated to be between 170 and 200 years old, Jonathan is St Helena’s oldest Saint, and possibly the oldest living land creature in the world!
A national treasure Jonathan is one of several giant tortoises that live in the grounds of Plantation House. Thought to have arrived on the Island in 1882, in lives at Plantation House with David and Emma (who arrived in 1969), and Myrtle and Fredrika, (arriving in 1972). He also is on the reverse of the local 5 pence coin.
It is believed he was brought to the island aged about 50 in 1882, which would make his date of birth 1832 (life expectancy of a giant tortoise is approximately 150 years or thereabouts), but remained unnamed until the 1930’s. Named Jonathan by Sir Spencer Davis, Governor of the island between 1932-36, unfortunately it isn’t recorded why he was named Jonathan.
Jonathan has been identified as a Seychelles Giant Tortoise, Dipsochelys hololissa. Which makes him a solitary example of only a handful of surviving Seychelles Giant Tortoise existing in the world.
Did you know:
- It is estimated that Jonathan has seen over 30 of St Helena’s Governors throughout his years at Plantation.
- The sex of an adult tortoise is indicated by its plastron (lower shell). Posteriorly, this is noticeably concave in a male; in a female the plastron is flat, being used for tamping down the earth on the site where she is to bury her eggs.
- Jonathan’s sight and hearing are diminishing, so is Jonathan’s ability to tear and chew with his horny beak (tortoises don’t have teeth). So Joe Hollins, St Helena’s only vet, hand feeds Jonathan regularly.
- Jonathan needs to be able to bathe in water (or mud) to keep cool. Giant tortoises will go into water if it’s too hot, or too cold.
- Giant tortoises dislike long grass (over 30cm) and will happily graze short grass down to 1 or 2cm.
Sadly Jonathan was not on the island during Napoleon’s exile. This myth is debunked by records of a female tortoise that died in 1877. If not this female, there was another that died in 1918.