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Jonathan the turtle turns 190 : NPR

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Jonathan relaxes on the lawn of Plantation House, the residence of the governor of Saint Helena, in October 2017. The world’s oldest tortoise celebrates what is believed to be his 190th birthday this year.

Gianluigi Guercia/AFP via Getty Images


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Jonathan the turtle turns 190 : NPR

Jonathan relaxes on the lawn of Plantation House, the residence of the governor of Saint Helena, in October 2017. The world’s oldest tortoise celebrates what is believed to be his 190th birthday this year.

Gianluigi Guercia/AFP via Getty Images

He lived through two world wars, eight British monarchs and 40 American presidents. His life saw the first telephone call (1876), the first skyscraper (1885), the first powered flight (1903), the first people to walk on the moon (1969).

He was alive when the first photograph of a person was taken (1838), now he poses for selfies with adoring tourists. He was born before the creation of postage stamps (1840), and appears there now.

This is Jonathan, the oldest turtle in the world. And he is celebrating his 190th birthday.

Jonathan marked the occasion with a three-day birthday party over the weekend at his home on the South Atlantic island and British Overseas Territory of St Helena, where he spent most of its long life (minus the first 50 or so years).

Jonathan is thought to have been born in 1832, but he could be even older. His estimated age is based on the fact that he was fully mature when he was brought to Saint Helena from the Seychelles in 1882 as a gift to his governor at the time.

And an old photograph of an adult Jonathan grazing grass at the governors residence – called the Plantation House – between 1882 and 1886 further confirms this theory, according to Guinness World Records. He has lived there ever since and currently enjoys the company of three giant tortoises named David, Emma and Fred.

Guinness World Records declared Jonathan the world’s oldest chelonian – a category encompassing tortoises, tortoises and terrapins – in January, three years after naming him the oldest known living land animal.

Jonathan is blind and has no sense of smell, but his hearing is excellent and he enjoys human company, the government of Saint Helena told the secretary in early 2022.

Jonathan’s favorite foods are cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, apples, bananas and hearts of lettuce. Her vet, Joe Hollins, described her main interests as sleeping (either in the sun or under the cut grass, depending on the temperature), eating and mating.

“Despite his age, Jonathan still has a good libido and is frequently seen mating with Emma and sometimes Fred – animals are often not particularly gender sensitive!” Hollins said.

Jonathan has actually been considered a gay icon for quite some time. In 2017, the Guardians discovered during a medical procedure that Frederica, his companion of nearly three decades, was not actually female as had been believed since the two were first introduced in 1991 – which explains the name of Fred and their lack of offspring.

It’s just one interesting facet of Jonathan’s fascinating life (another is that he took his first bath several years ago, at the ripe old age of 184), which far exceeded expectations. typical of what Hollins says is 150 years old.

“Although aware of the responsibility and of course he will die one day, I think we have improved his life expectancy considerably,” he told Guiness in 2019. “Like any celebrity, we have done plans for his disappearance, but I hope not to put them into action yet.”

Jonathan’s birthday party caps off a year of celebration

Although Jonathan’s exact date of birth is unknown, Governor Nigel Phillips gave him an official birthday on December 4, 1832, earlier this year and timed the big party to coincide with the popular annual Christmas market in Plantation House.

People could visit a special Jonathan market stall to see an animated video of his life, view the winners of an art contest honoring him, and purchase Jonathan-themed stamps and souvenirs, among other perks.

And the birthday boy was treated to a special salad cake featuring some of his favorite foods, like tomatoes and bananas.

This weekend’s festivities weren’t the only opportunity for fans to wish Jonathan good luck. Saint Helena has actually been celebrating (some might say rocking) its birthday all year.

It organizes local art and souvenir contests; sold limited edition portraits, prints and postage stamps; handed out certificates to his visitors bearing the very first image of his footprint and created outsourced photo and video montages celebrating Jonathan’s life – including “everything he’s been through, the people who connected with him and DNA research that could change our understanding of the aging process and cancer.” It is also depicted on the reverse of the island’s 5 pence coin.

The Saint Helena tourism website says it is also calling for a national holiday in honor of Jonathan.

It is an honor worthy of local fame and tourist attraction, which has seen many high-profile visitors over the years, including the late Queen Elizabeth when she was still a princess in 1947.

Today visitors can still see Jonathan roaming the grounds of Plantation House, although he put some restrictions in place after what Hollins called “harassment and inappropriate behavior from boat cruisers”.

Another Jonathan sitter, Teeny Lucy, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that there is a strict policy of doing nothing to cause him undue stress – so no more children of visiting dignitaries standing on his shell for photos, for example.

“Turtles, they don’t move fast and they just contemplate everything. When I go up, it definitely reduces any anxiety you might feel, and it’s a slower pace for everything,” she said. “He’s a lovely old gentleman. He really is.”



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