Over the weekend, a three-day long birthday celebration for the ages began for a very special reptile. Jonathan the tortoise turned 190 yesterday, with a tortoise-friendly birthday cake and an animated video about his life.
Jonathan has lived through multiple human milestones, including the first photograph of a person (1838), the invention of the first incandescent lightbulb (1878), the Wright Brother’s first flight (1903), and more, according to Guinness World Records.
No stranger to the spotlight, Jonathan has been featured on the back of St. Helena’s five-pence coin and is also on a postage stamp. He was officially named the oldest known living land animal and oldest chelonian ever recorded by Guinness World Records in February. Chelonians, also called Testudines, are the order of animals that includes turtles, terrapins, and tortoises.
He lives at the governor’s house alongside three other giant tortoises-David, Emma, and Fred.
In 1882, the Seychelles giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa) was brought from the Seychelles Islands off the eastern coast of Africa and gifted to St. Helena, a British territory in the southern Atlantic Ocean. Jonathan was a gift to Sir William Grey-Wilson, who was the island’s first colonial secretary and later became governor of the island.
While the exact date of his birth is unknown, it’s estimated that he hatched around 1832. In November of this year, St. Helena governor Nigel Phillips granted Jonathan the official birthday of December 4, 1832. However, it’s possible that he is as old as 200, according to St. Helena head of tourism, Matt Joshua.
While the tortoise has long been covered with distinguished wrinkles, he is blind, has cataracts, and can’t smell. Despite his senses failing, Jonathan’s vet Joe Hollins reports that he still has plenty of energy—though this varies with the weather.
“On mild days, he will sunbathe—his long neck and legs stretched fully out of his shell to absorb heat and transfer it to his core,” Hollins told Guinness World Records. During colder weather, Jonathan prefers to, “dig himself into leaf mold or grass clippings and remain there all day.”
Hollins added, “In spite of his age, Jonathan still has a good libido and is seen frequently to mate with Emma and sometimes Fred—animals are often not particularly gender-sensitive!”
Jonathan’s romantic life and libido has also interested the public. In 1991, Jonathan was presented with a mate after his handlers found that he was pretty irritable and cranky. He happily developed an intimate relationship with the other tortoise, but didn’t produce any offspring over 26 years. It turns out, Jonathan’s partner Frederica, is actually male, which explains the lack of baby tortoises.
The three-day party began at the governor’s residence house in Saint Helena on Friday December 2.
According to Guinness World Records, the previous oldest chelonian was Tu’i Malila. This radiated tortoise was presented to the royal family of Tonga by British explorer Captain James Cook around 1777. Tu’i Malila died in 1965 at the estimated age of 188.