189-Year-Old Senior Tortoise Unwinds With A Warm Bath

May 03, 2021 by apost team

On March 19, 2016 a historical moment occurred when a then 184-year-old tortoise received his first bath on record. The event happened where the tortoise, Jonathan, lives at Plantation House on St. Helena Island. It is estimated that Jonathan was hatched in 1832, making this legendary tortoise the oldest known living land animal. 

The relaxing bath was administered by veterinarian Joe Hollins with a simple bucket of warm, soapy water and a non-abrasive brush or loofah. The vet explained that he had previously given a bath to one of the female giant tortoises that also lives at Plantation House, and the transformation of her shell gave him the idea to try the process on Jonathan as well. 

Hollins consulted a tortoise specialist beforehand and received advice on how to safely give the gentle giants a bath. He used soft circular motions and started at the back of the shell, washing away years of dirt. Jonathan was immediately curious about the new sensation and repeatedly tried to turn his head around to get a good look. Eventually, he got used to the feeling and moved his focus back to happily munching on grass and basking in the sunlight. 

The sight of Jonathan experiencing his very first bath is adorable. He looks happy and calm with his newly clean shell. He is clearly a very lucky tortoise to have lived such a long life, and now to get bathed with so much attention. Jonathan lives a peaceful and carefree life with his closest companion, Frederick, another giant tortoise.

Be sure to reach the end of this article to see the full video :-) 

Jonathan is a Seychelles giant tortoise, or Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa. He was hatched in Seychelles and was brought to St. Helena in 1882 when he was already fully grown and an estimated 50-years-old. He was named in 1930 by the Governor of St. Helena, Sir Spencer Davis. Jonathan still resides at Plantation House which is the Governor’s residence. 

Jonathan’s chosen mate is Frederick, originally named Fredericka, who was believed to be a female tortoise until 2017 when veterinarian Catherine Man noticed a shell deformity that made the tortoise’s sex difficult to determine. Frederick has since been determined to be a male and Jonathan remained at his side during the examinations. The two tortoises have been inseparable partners since 1991 and still do everything together.

The St. Helena government released a statement about Jonathan’s health back in 2015. The information came directly from Hollins and he said, “Jonathan is alive and well! He’s blind from cataracts, has lost his sense of smell, and so cannot detect food (his fellow giants mug me and can detect the tiniest morsel dropped on the ground), but he has retained excellent hearing.” 

Hollins gave more details about how he cares for Jonathan in his old age. Hollins said, “I literally hand feed him with gloves (welder’s gauntlets). He knows my voice and so starts mouthing the air for food and I place it so that he bites off chunks as he has no idea where it is. This works well.” Hollins is a dedicated veterinarian for showing such personalized care for this special tortoise. 


Hollins also made a statement about what caring for Jonathan means to him in footage of the bath posted by the St. Helena government. He said in the video, “I’m in my profession because I love animals,” He continued,  "What an honor to be looking after the oldest living land animal. What an amazing thing." Hollins seems in awe of the opportunity to care for such a special and legendary animal. 

Jonathan became the oldest known living land animal in 2006 after the passing of Adwaita, another male giant tortoise that lived to an estimated 255 years. Adwaita lived in the Alipore Zoological Gardens of Kolkata, India. It is rumored that he was also hatched in Seychelles like Jonathan, but this has not been confirmed.

Jonathan is a national treasure in St. Helena, having all of his care facilitated by the government. He is one of the island’s leading attractions and is a worldwide celebrity. In 2019 he was inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records for his astonishing age. 

Proving just how valuable these old tortoises are, Smithsonian Magazine released an article in December 2018 that reports a giant tortoise’s DNA was used in cancer research and may give insight into longevity genes. The article centers around lonesome George, a giant tortoise that passed away in 2012 at the age of 100 years old. 

George’s body was donated to a research facility, and they published George’s genome, which reveals “that the tortoises have specialized genes for longevity, immune response and cancer resistance that other vertebrate animals do not possess.” This find is believed to provide valuable information for cancer research and shows that these amazing creatures have much to teach us.

Did you enjoy the video of Jonathan’s first bath? What do you think of these incredible creatures? We want to know your thoughts, and be sure to pass this along to your friends and family.

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