Imagine if there was someone out there old enough to have lived through all the biggest events of the 19th and 20th centuries. Someone who’d not only been around at the advent of spaceflight, but of powered flight itself! Well, such a being does indeed walk this Earth, but he’s not a human. He’s a tortoise named Jonathan, and he just celebrated his 190th birthday with one “shell” of a party.
Gift of a tortoise
Nothing is known about Jonathan’s early life as a baby tortoise, because records don’t go back that far! But we know he was given as a present to the governor of St. Helena, William Grey-Wilson, in 1882. The world was a completely different place then and Jonathan’s seen it all change from his remote homeland in the southern stretches of the Atlantic Ocean.
But Jonathan was lucky he got to live out his — very — long life in peace on the island rather than meeting a gruesome fate. In January 2022 his veterinarian Joe Hollins told The Washington Post newspaper, “It was quite traditional for [tortoises] to be used as diplomatic gifts around the world, if they weren’t eaten first. Apparently, they were utterly delicious.”
Among the last of his kind
Back in the 19th century, no-one was even sure what kind of tortoise Jonathan was. At first, he was thought to be a Aldabran tortoise from the Seychelles. But now that professionals have had the chance to examine him up close, they think there’s a chance he might actually be a Seychelles giant tortoise. There are fewer than 100 of them left in the world!
Jonathan not only didn’t have a confirmed species, he didn’t even have a name when he first arrived in St. Helena. The giant tortoise only got given a moniker in the 1930s when Governor Spencer Davis had control of the island. Why he chose the name Jonathan, chances are no-one will ever know. But it’s a nice name.