Jonathan the Giant Tortoise, St Helena’s celebrity Resident

The most famous resident of St Helena steadily crawled over, posed dutifully, then probably weary of travelling paparazzi, disdainfully returned to his dinner. Gary Arndt, and I had been given a private audience with the planet’s oldest known living land animal, leaving me a little star struck. Jonathan hasn’t let his celebrity status go to his head however, and his level-headed modesty soon put me at ease.

Jonathon the giant tortoise, famous resident at Plantation House on the South Atlantic island of St Helena on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-43 jonathan_tortoise

Jonathan

This 182 year old Giant Seychelles Tortoise has sparked worldwide interest, especially since being featured in BBC News Magazine, which was the most read article that day. Inclusion in several other printed publications, has seen his celebrity increase, and he is now the one of the island’s most popular attractions.

He resides at Plantation House, home of the Governor. Most visitors to the South Atlantic island are keen to include a house tour, but Jonathan still generates the most interest.

Jonathon the giant tortoise, famous resident at Plantation House on the South Atlantic island of St Helena on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-2 jonathan_tortoise

Striking profile

We were fortunate to meet him however, the Governor’s wife has restricted public feeding to a single weekly period on Sunday afternoons. This is to protect the elderly tortoise from excessive attention. Laudable of course, but having travelled there to promote the island, and it’s attractions, it did concern me that opportunities for decent images might be limited, or he wouldn’t turn up at all.

Fortunately, our driver Harry, who was also one of the island’s judges arranged for us to spend a few minutes with him however, enabling us to get a few close-ups.

Jonathon the giant tortoise, famous resident at Plantation House on the South Atlantic island of St Helena on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-51 jonathan_tortoise

Back to dinner

On arrival our group had seen a giant tortoise, which we’d been assured was Jonathan, and all of us had taken dozens of images. After the rest departed, Gary and I crept up for some closer pictures, but were soon informed after a quick check by a member of the house staff that it wasn’t the celebrity tortoise.

After a short search, she found the correct tortoise, identified by a cataract in his right eye, and we got the chance to turn our cameras on the ancient reptile. He was the consummate professional, very photogenic, with a variety of natural poses, which would be the envy of any model.

Giant tortoises at Plantation House on the South Atlantic island of St Helena on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-48_2 giant tortoises

Jonathan’s groupies

While he quietly posed, I contemplated the fact that he’d possibly been born in 1831, the year Charles Darwin set sail on HMS Beagle. He was already 56 when the Eiffel Tower was erected, was over 110 years old at the end of World War II, and is only 55 years younger than the United States.

In an age of instant celebrities, Jonathan’s status took over a century to establish, and is undoubtedly well deserved. I’ll be hoping for an invitation to his 200th birthday celebrations.

Jonathon the giant tortoise, famous resident at Plantation House on the South Atlantic island of St Helena on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-31 jonathan_tortoise

A modest celebrity

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Comments 7

  1. Kathryn Burrington

    That really is quite remarkable and I must say he’s looking good for his age, although he does rather remind me of my primary school headmaster – a very scary man indeed!
    Hope you get that invite (if it’s a ‘plus one’ can I come too? 😉

  2. Tamara

    The governor’s wife did nothing of a kind. Jonathan had never been fed by the general public. At the end of 2011 Jonathan was feeling poorly and sluggish due to a cold and wet spring, his temperature had dropped to a dangerously low level and his heartbeat had slowed right down. He went into semi-hibernation and the island vet became extremely worried about this and decided that Jonathan needed extra nourishment because he wasn’t getting all the vitamins and minerals from just grazing the grass in the paddock. At the same time the vet made the decision to stop the general public from traipsing all over the paddock searching the tortoises out and disturbing their habitat.
    As a result of this decision Jonathan started to get additional food from the Plantation kitchens once a week (fed by the vet at the vert’s convenience) which continues to this day, and the corridor was built to keep out over-eager visitors. He now, nearly 5 years later, has improved vision, his hearing is increased as has his sense of smell and his jaw has started to regenerate.
    It would be good if blog writers would check their facts before publishing blatant untruths .

    1. Iain Mallory

      Thank you for your input and clarifying the whole situation for us Tamara.

      However, the fact at the time was that, a few days prior to our visit we were scheduled to see Jonathon being fed in the company of the vet. We were informed by tourism board representatives, that the governors wife literally the day before we were due to visit him had decided this was not possible. The reasons we were provided were in line with the explanation you have provided, however several locals also informed us that the governors wife did not like the tours of Plantation House and had tried to have them stopped when she arrived and had failed.

      A number of local Saints informed us, she still continued to put obstacles in the way of visitors.

      Public feeding, should be clarified, this didn’t mean the public was able to feed Jonathon, merely be present to witness the vet feeding him. This, was what we had been informed would be available to us on our visit.

      The fact is our original opportunity to visit Jonathon was changed only the day before we were due to visit. It was supposed to be one of the main reasons for visiting. I certainly didn’t have any particular interest in visiting Plantation House without seeing Jonathon.

      As the governors wife, I appreciate you obviously seem to be in a better position to comment on the feeding and visitations of Jonathon, but I as a temporary visitor am able to only go on the facts that present themselves at the time and the statements made by others.

      I will not retract any statements made in this post as it is exactly what happened while I was visiting and based on information of residents of the island.

      Like anybody blogger or otherwise, I can only present the facts as I see them or as they are related to me by several different sources. Reading between the lines, it seems you may have an issue with bloggers in general. That’s your prerogative, but seems a shame and slightly unfair, but your choice.

      I am happy to leave your comment, to provide a balanced and complete story.

      I am also extremely happy to hear that Jonathon is in improved health, I hope he is still around if the opportunity to visit again ever arises, even if it’s a decade or two before that is possible.

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