Jamestown, Saint Helena —(Map)
Last Sunday was the official birthday of the world’s oldest land animal. Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise living on the island of Saint Helena, turned 190 years old. The event was celebrated with a big party, which included a special “salad cake”.
Nobody knows for sure how old Jonathan is. But in 1882, he was brought as a gift to Sir William Grey-Wilson, who lived in Saint Helena. Pictures taken around that time show that Jonathan was already full-grown.
Since it takes about 50 years for Seychelles giant tortoises to become adults, animal experts say Jonathan must have been born around 1832. That’s earned him the Guinness World Record for the world’s oldest land animal.
Saint Helena, an island in the South Atlantic Ocean, is a “British Overseas Territory”. It isn’t actually part of the United Kingdom, but it’s supported and protected by Britain. Together with two other islands (Ascension and Tristan da Cunha), the area has its own government.
In 1890, Sir Grey-Wilson became the governor of Saint Helena. He brought Jonathan along with him to live at the governor’s home, called Plantation House. Since then, over 30 other governors have come and gone from Plantation House. But Jonathan has remained. Currently, there are three other giant tortoises there keeping him company.
Seychelles giant tortoises are known for living a long time. One tortoise was reported to have lived for 255 years. Joe Hollins, the veterinarian who looks after Jonathan, says Jonathan is probably older than 190, but there’s no way to know. To help keep things straight, Saint Helena’s current governor, Nigel Phillips, gave Jonathan the official birthday of December 4, 1832.
Saint Helena isn’t a big place – only about 4,500 people live there – so Jonathan is a local star. His picture is already on one of Saint Helena’s coins. For his birthday, he’s now being honored on a series of stamps.
It’s hard to understand how much the world has changed in Jonathan’s lifetime. Jonathan was born before the internet, computers, TVs, radios, telephones, or light bulbs ever existed. There weren’t even typewriters, electric motors, or photographs. Forty different presidents have led the US since he was born. Jonathan was born before global warming began and before plastic was ever invented.
But Jonathan doesn’t really care much about inventions. Mr. Hollins says the tortoise is generally pretty happy as long as he can sleep and eat. He likes to warm himself by sleeping in the sun. When it’s colder, he digs himself into grass clippings to keep warm.
Though Jonathan is still very active (for a tortoise), he does have some health problems. He’s blind, and he can no longer smell things, so he needs to be fed by hand. But he’s got a good appetite. He eats lots of vegetables and fruits, including lettuce, cabbage, carrots, and cucumbers, as well as apples and bananas. His sense of hearing is also still strong. He recognizes Mr. Hollins’s voice, and responds to it.
To celebrate Jonathan’s birthday, Saint Helena held a three-day party. People were invited to Plantation House to visit Jonathan. The people who take care of Jonathan made him a special salad cake to celebrate.
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