World’s Oldest Living Land Animal Pre-Dates The Theory of Evolution

Charles Darwin and his crew had just embarked on the expedition that would inform the theory of natural selection. Andrew Jackson won re-election as President of the United States of America — which had recently turned 50. And Egyptian armed forces defeated the Ottoman Empire in several decisive engagements in the First Syrian War.

The year was 1832. And most importantly of all, it’s the same year that in the Seychelles Islands of the Indian Ocean, a tortoise hatched from its egg and began the life of a beloved celebrity.

That individual is Jonathan the tortoise. As I write this 190 years later, Jonathan is the oldest living land animal on Earth. (The Greenland shark can potentially live 500 years, and one Japanese fish called a koi reportedly lived for 226 years.)

Birthday cake for a tortoise

It’s actually impossible to know Jonathan’s exact age. He might be even older than we think. But while only Jonathan himself knows his true age and birthday, he’s not the only one who celebrates it. The superlatively old Seychelles tortoise celebrated his most recent natal day with a “cake” of fresh vegetables at the governor’s mansion on the southern Atlantic island of St. Helena, where he lives with his caretakers and tortoise companions.

Teeny Lucy, the chairperson for the local chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), commented on Jonathan’s stature to The Dodo.

“Jonathan is an icon here,” Lucy told the outlet in 2019. “He is a grand old gentleman who has seen it all.”

The tortoise that would become the world’s oldest chelonian first landed on St. Helena in 1882, when sailors brought him to the island when he was just 50 years old, a mere baby, along with other Seychelles tortoises. Three other giant tortoises now accompany him on the lawn of the governor’s mansion — David, Emma, and Fred.

According to The Dodo, 82-year-old David is Jonathan’s bestie. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have relationships — of a certain sultry variety — with the other two tortoises.

Still has good libido

“In spite of his age, Jonathan still has good libido and is seen frequently to mate with Emma and sometimes Fred,” Joe Hollins, one of Jonathan’s veterinarians, told the Guinness Book of World Records. “Animals are often not particularly gender-sensitive.”


For a 190-year-old, Jonathan appears to be in pristine physical condition overall. He is “likely fully blind,” The Dodo reported, and has lost his sense of smell. But as his strong sexual energy indicates, his virility is intact. He reportedly cruises around the lawn comfortably, grazing on grass, greeting visitors and fans, and hanging out with his friends.


Jonathan “enjoys the sun but on very hot days takes to the shade. 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,” explained Hollins.

His portrait graces local currency

Jonathan is not short on fans — the kind of popularity that gets your likeness printed on currency can create that effect. You read that right: the famous tortoise’s portrait graces the back of St. Helena’s 5-pence coin.


“Being the oldest land animal in the world, he has almost royal status here,” Lucy said. “He is dignified and interacts in a friendly way as long as people move slowly around him. We are all very fond of him.”

It’s all a day in the life for Jonathan. If you could ask the celebrity tortoise himself, he’d probably tell you he’s just living from snack to snack (reportedly, his favorites are cabbage and seasonal fruit). But in fact, life hasn’t always been easy on him.

A few years ago, Jonathan’s health started to deteriorate. But happily, his caretakers intervened.


Fit as a fiddle

“We started feeding Jonathan on a weekly basis a few years ago to supplement his grass diet and boost his nutrition,” Teeny Lucy told The Dodo. “This was because the island vet realized that his beak (that he scythes grass with) was soft and crumbly and that he was too cold and had lost weight. All that has reversed now and he is as fit as a fiddle!”


Now restored to full vitality, it’s impossible to predict how long Jonathan will live. Will he eclipse 200? Can he outlive the entire life cycle of the internal combustion engine, which was invented in 1876 and is approaching obsolescence? Will our future alien overlords encounter him when they arrive at some date this century, next century, or the century after that?

If you do, unknown extraterrestrial counterparts, please do one thing if you can read/process/telepathically consume this article: throw Jonathan a veggie or two. He may very well transcend us all.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson spent his 20s as an adventure rock climber, scampering throughout the western U.S., Mexico, and Thailand to scope out prime stone and great stories. Life on the road gradually transformed into a seat behind the keyboard, where he acted as a founding writer of the AllGear Digital Newsroom and earned 1,500+ bylines in four years on topics from pro rock climbing to slingshots and scientific breakthroughs.