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Meet Jonathan, the world's oldest tortoise

Visit the remote island of St Helena and see Jonathan

Rebecca

Rebecca

St Helena Specialist
Published on

06 Mar 2019

Read time

5 minutes

Jonathan The Tortoise Outside Plantation House

If you're visiting St Helena (and we really think you should, it's an incredible place) we recommend you head over to Plantation House, home of the Governor of St Helena, and perhaps more famously, a Seychelles Giant Tortoise named Jonathan. He's the oldest island inhabitant, and may indeed be the oldest living land animal in the world at around 187 years. What a dude!

Jonathan The Tortoise In 2016
Jonathan in 2016 outside Plantation House

Legend

Jonathan has become a bit of a legend on the island. He appears on the back of the local 5 pence coin, has his own Wikipedia entry, and it's rumored that he met St Helena's other famous resident, Napoleon. The latter however can't be true unless Jonathan's arrival date on the island had been mis-recorded by about 60 years. Which is a shame. That would have made one hell of a story.

Jonathan With St Helena Residents In The 1860S
Jonathan (left) with St Helena Residents in the 1860s

The secret to a long life

No-one knows why Jonathan has lived for so long (150 years is usually the max for giant tortoises), but some attribute his vitality to the consumption of a local herb called 'Monkey's Ears' which is found all over the pastures on St Helena. The herb has medicinal properties and is used extensively in Asia as a diuretic to clear toxins, reduce inflammation and boost immunity. Apparently in China it was even used to make a 'long-life' tea, where a professor who drank it reputedly lived for 265 years and married 24 times. Now what was the name of that plant again...?

Escape Artist

In his more sprightly younger years, Jonathan regularly escaped from his enclosure on St Helena. He would bust through fences, crawl up hills and disrupt croquet games at Plantation House by sitting on the balls and knocking over the benches. His behavior was put down to loneliness, and resulted in two other tortoises (Emily and David) being sent over from the Seychelles to the island to keep him company.

Jonathan The Tortoise
Jonathan on the move
Jonathan The Tortoise Disrupting Croquet
Jonathan stops a game of croquet
Jonathan At Lunch
Lunch time

Let's not forget Plantation House

Jonathan isn't the only reason you should visit Plantation House, although admittedly he's definitely the star of the show. The house itself was built in the late 18th Century as a country residence for the Governor of the East India Company, and is now home to the Governor of St Helena, currently Lisa Honan, the first female on the island to hold this position. Visiting the house gives a fascinating glimpse into life on the island over the past 200 years, and is one of the top things to do on St Helena.

What: Guided house tours last an hour, with a full showing of the ground and first floors. The tour is followed by a visit to the tortoises, and a cup of tea in the coffee shop where souvenirs are available to buy.

When: Every Tuesday and Thursday at 11am.

Cost: £10 per person.

Plantation House On St Helena
Plantation House and grounds
Inside Plantation House On St Helena
Inside Plantation House

Visiting Jonathan and his pals

Visits to see Jonathan and the other tortoises take place in a fenced-off viewing area outside the house, but you can enter the paddock with a member of staff to take that all-important selfie if you wish. Just remember to look but not touch.

When you visit Jonathan and the other tortoises, be careful not to startle them because this could make them to go into defence mode, which can cause their breathing to shut down. Obviously not a great idea at Jonathan's age. But don't worry, once they know you're around, these majestic movers don't seem to be bothered by camera flashes or a bit of noise.

Visiting Area To See Jonathan The Tortoise
The viewing area

Will Jonathan outlive us all?

Jonathan is blind from cataracts and has lost his sense of smell, but has excellent hearing, which is pretty impressive for an 187 year old. Whether he'll drop dead tomorrow or carry on for another 100 years and outlive us all is anyone's guess. So we reckon you should come and visit St Helena and meet Jonathan for yourself whilst he's still around.

Jonathan The Giant Tortoise On St Helena
187 and still going strong

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