Friday, 14 March 2014

Meet Jonathan, St Helena's 182-year-old giant tortoise

By Sally Kettle
St Helena

Our world is full of weird and wonderful creatures, many of which amaze scientists and non-scientists, alike. But is it true that a living tortoise could have started its life in the first half of the 19th Century?

Plantation House in St Helena sits proud amid gumwood trees alive with chirps and whistles.

It is the official residence of Mark Capes, Governor of the British Overseas Territories in the South Atlantic. I have not come to see the governor, nor the large brown hillocks which dot the pristine lawns.

It's only when my guide Joe Hollis, the sole vet on the island, bangs on a large metal bowl, that all becomes clear. The hillocks rise and trot surprisingly swiftly towards us.

Meet Jonathan, Myrtle and Fredrika, three of five giant tortoises who live on St Helena. Their shy friends David and Emma are hiding in the rough.

"He is virtually blind from cataracts, has no sense of smell - but his hearing is good," Joe tells me. At 182, Jonathan may be the oldest living land creature.

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