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190-year-old Jonathan is the oldest tortoise ever

Jonathan the oldest tortoise ever on Saint Helena, part of a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic Ocean.
Jonathan the oldest tortoise ever on Saint Helena, part of a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic Ocean. (Image credit: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP via Getty Images)

A 190-year-old tortoise named Jonathan has become the oldest tortoise ever, adding to his list of age-defying accolades. 

Jonathan is estimated to have been born in 1832, which means he turned, or turns, 190 years old in 2022, Guinness World Records (opens in new tab) announced on Jan. 12. To put that into context, Jonathan was born before Queen Victoria ascended the British throne in 1837.

The elderly Seychelles giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa) was already the Guinness World Record holder for the oldest living land animal, but now he is officially the oldest turtle or tortoise ever recorded. He beat previous record-holder Tu'i Malila, a radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) that lived to be at least 188 years old before dying in 1965. 

Jonathan lives on St. Helena, an island in the South Atlantic Ocean. "He is a local icon, symbolic of persistence in the face of change," Joe Hollins, Jonathan's veterinarian, told Guinness World Records. 

Related: The longest-living animals on Earth

Jonathan arrived on St. Helena in 1882 when he was about 50 years old, according to the British Museum (opens in new tab) in London. A photograph of Jonathan dated between 1882 and 1886 shows him fully grown, which suggests he was at least 50 years old when it was taken, so he could be older than 190 years today. 

In his twilight years, Jonathan is blind and can't smell but still grazes on the grounds of the governor of St. Helena's residence where he lives with fellow giant tortoises David, Emma and Fred. He is fed by hand once a week to ensure he gets enough calories. His favorite foods include cabbage, cucumber and carrots, according to Guinness World Records. As well as eating, Jonathan's main interests include sleeping and mating. 

"In spite of his age, Jonathan still has good libido and is seen frequently to mate with Emma and sometimes Fred — animals are often not particularly gender-sensitive!" Hollins told Guinness World Records. 

Scientists don't yet understand all of the processes that allow tortoises like Jonathan to live for so long. Giant tortoises quickly kill off damaged cells in a process called apoptosis, which may help protect them against damage to cells that normally deteriorate as we age, Live Science previously reported

Jonathan's longevity may be unmatched on land, but there are longer living animals in water. For example, Greenland sharks (Somniosus microcephalus) have an estimated maximum life span of at least 272 years, and Hydra, a group of small jellyfish-like invertebrates, continually regenerate their cells and don't seem to age at all.

Originally published on Live Science.

Patrick Pester
Staff Writer

Patrick Pester is a staff writer for Live Science. His background is in wildlife conservation and he has worked with endangered species around the world. Patrick holds a master's degree in international journalism from Cardiff University in the U.K.