Lonely Planet Writer

Jonathan – a 184-year-old tortoise in St. Helena – takes his first bath to spruce up for tourists

A 184-year-old giant tortoise named Jonathan took his first bath this week on the remote island of St. Helena in order to keep the island’s eldest resident looking his best for tourists.


The St. Helena Government released a video, explaining that on 19 March, “a historic event took place in the grounds of Plantation House, St. Helena Island”, Jonathan, who is the oldest known living land animal on Earth and a “creakingly old national treasure” was washed for the first time in recorded history by Dr. Joe Hollins, a veterinarian.

St. Helena – perhaps most well-known as the place of Napoleon’s exile – is a remote island in the Atlantic Ocean located off the southern coast of Africa. Last September, an aircraft touched down on the island for the first time, marking the end of the island’s isolation. Before, the island was accessed by a five-day boat trip from Johannesburg. This year, a weekly flight service from Johannesburg will begin.

Jonathan the tortoise gets a bath.
Jonathan the tortoise gets a bath. Image by St Helena Government YouTube

Dr. Hollins consulted a tortoise specialist to find the best way to clean the tortoise using non-abrasive materials, according to the St. Helena government website.

“It is purely for aesthetic reasons.  We want visitors and tourists on the Island to witness the tortoises in their true form, without the obstruction of moss and lichen on their shells.  There is so much interest in Jonathan, St. Helena’s most famous animal resident, and we want all who visit him to see him at his best,” he said.

The veterinarian has built a close relationship with Jonathan through hand-feeding him his diet in recent years. He gives him a weekly check-up and feeds him with fresh fruit and vegetables.

St. Helena.
St. Helena. Image by Darrin Henry – Shutterstock

“As a vet, it has been an honour having Jonathan under my care, looking after the oldest known animal in the world.  I love animals and caring for Jonathan and his fellow tortoises at Plantation House has been a unique experience in my career.”

Having a close eye on Jonathan’s health is a benefit – giant tortoises are expected to live about 150 years and Jonathan has already outlived that by three decades.