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Semafor LogoJenna Moon
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The world's oldest tortoise turns 190

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Title iconThe News

Jonathan, the world's oldest recorded tortoise and living land animal, has turned 190.

 Jonathan the tortoise at Plantation House in March 2020.
Creative Commons/Kevstan
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He is today celebrating the finale of a three-day birthday party at his home on the island of St. Helena, a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Local residents have been invited to the festivities, which have included a tortoise-friendly birthday cake — made of his favorite fruits and vegetables, including carrots, apples, and pears — and an animated video about his life.

Jonathan’s age is an estimation supported by a photo that shows him fully grown when he arrived on St. Helena in 1882 as a gift from Seychelles for the island’s then governor Sir William Grey-Wilson.

“In all likelihood, he is even older than we think,” says the Guinness World Records, which has given him the official record title of oldest chelonian — a category which includes all turtles, terrapins, and tortoises.

Jonathan lives with three other tortoises — David, Emma, and Fred — the latter of whom has been Jonathan’s partner since 1991.

Title iconSome perspective

At 190, Jonathan has lived through:

  • The reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901)
  • The invention of the telephone (1876)
  • Two world wars (1914-1945)
  • The moon landing (1969)
  • All 34 seasons of The Simpsons (1989-present)
  • Y2K (2000)
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