Jonathan the tortoise celebrated his 190th birthday as he extends his run as the longest-living land animal in the world.
Jonathan first arrived in his current home on the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic in 1882 as a gift to the governor of the island, which is a British territory. At that time, he was thought to already be 50 years old.
Now notching 190 years on Earth, Jonathan is 48 inches long, the same size as when he arrived on the island. His species of tortoise reaches full maturity by 50, providing the best estimate for his age, even though some naturalists believe he could be even older.
Despite his long life, he only gained international attention in 2008 when The Independent reported on his then-remarkable age of 176.
Locals speculated as to why Jonathan has lived so long, exceeding the expected life of his breed, the Seychelles Giant tortoise, which is 150 years old.
Jonathan was five years old when Queen Victoria – Britain’s second-longest reigning monarch – took the throne, and he outlived both World Wars. He is older than the first photograph and has lived through the administrations of 39 US presidents.
Locals organized a number of events to celebrate Jonathan’s birthday, culminating in a three-day celebration.
Estimated to have been born in 1832, Jonathan has lived most of his life at the governor’s plantation house, according to the island’s website, which adds that Jonathan could arguably serve as a national symbol for the island. Jonathan’s image even adorns the backside of a St. Helena 5 pence coin.
Scientists have even studied Jonathan to determine what health benefits they might glean from his diet and his cells. Because his cells do not mutate the same way the cells of humans do, scientists hope he could reveal some secret to fighting cancer in humans.
Jonathan shares his home with three other tortoises: Emma, a 54-year-old female; David, a 54-year-old male; and Frederika, formerly Fredrik, a 31-year-old tortoise originally thought to be male but now thought to be female. The first two arrived in 1969, and Frederika arrived in 1991.
Jonathan last year surpassed the previous record-holder for oldest living land animal, a Madagascar tortoise named Tu’I Malila, who was gifted to the Tonga royal family in 1777 and died in 1965 at the age of 188 years old, according to Smithsonian magazine.