We live in a world that is full of many weird and wonderful things and Plantation House on the small island of St. Helena is no exception to this.
It sits proudly among gumwood trees alive with chirps and whistles, full of a wide variety fauna. In addition to this, the area is also the official residence of Mark Capes, the Governor of the British Overseas Territories in the South Atlantic.
Unfortunately for him though, the Governor isn’t the main attraction in St. Helena. Jonathon and his friends are.
Who is Jonathon and why is he so famous?
Jonathan, Myrtle, and Fredrika are three of five giant tortoises who live on St Helena. There are also two others, David and Emma, but those two are a bit shyer and so are hiding in the rough. Johnathon may be the oldest living land creature.
At 182 he is almost two centuries old. Joe Hollis, the one and only vet on the island says he is virtually blind from cataracts, has no sense of smell, but his hearing is still good and well, functioning correctly.
The Island of St. Helena
St. Helena was born as a violent volcano, and along with Ascension and Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic, is famous for its isolation and close-knit society. With a little over 4,500 inhabitants, it’s not exactly a bustling landmark. That said, Jamestown, its capital, became a center of commerce for the East India Company in the 17th Century, so it still has its fair bit of rich history.
Many sick and dying victims of the slave trade would spend their final hours on the shores of St Helena. Furthermore, it’s also where Napoleon Bonaparte lived and died after he was exiled. The people who live there are known as Saints, and they all share this complex past and ethnic traits of Africans, Americans, Europeans, and Chinese. There is a wide range of different cultures and beliefs on the island and they all live in harmony which is quite admirable.
What makes Jonathan more special than other giant tortoises?
Tortoises have always been famed for their size and a long lifespan, regularly reach triple figures. However, Jonathan is a rare Seychelles Giant. He and his buddies come from the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean. The population of Aldabra Giants reaches about 100,000, but only one small breeding population of Seychelles tortoises exists today.
As to why or how Johnathan ended up on St. Helena, no one can really say for sure. The leading theory is that he got there during the 17th Century when ships that could contain hundreds of easily-stacked tortoises, like a fast-food takeaway, were traveling all over the world. In the Galapagos islands alone it is estimated that over 200,000 tortoises were killed and eaten at this time.
Perhaps Johnathan avoided this fate by becoming the intriguing, exotic pet of Hudson Janisch, who was the governor in the 1880s. It is thought that he was bought to the Island as a mature adult in 1882.
Since then, thirty-three governors have come and gone, and nobody wants Jonathan to die on their watch. The current governor, Mr. Capes is certainly keen to ensure that he is treated with the respect, attention, and care that he definitely deserves.
Due to his blindness, finding vegetation and food was often difficult for Johnathan, and this eventually led to his becoming malnourished. This had consequences in itself with his skin becoming dry and his beak becoming blunt and soft, where it should be extremely sharp, which has added to the difficulty of eating.
Since then though, a new feeding regime has been put in place, and Joe now delivers a bucketful of fresh fruit and vegetables to Johnathan every Sunday morning. With this extra nutritional boost, his skin has returned to being supple and looking plump. His beak has also become a deadly weapon for anyone daring to poke a carrot near his mouth. Take a look at him being fed further down below.
While no one really wants to talk about it, the death of Johnathan is inevitable. The date is uncertain, maybe he’ll live for another 20 or 30 years, who knows? When he does eventually pop his shell though, it will be a very sad day for both his keepers and his friends, let alone the rest of the world.
A detailed plan has already been written to ensure everything goes smoothly. It has been dubbed ‘Operation Go Slow’. Stuffing him was a thought but has since been decided that this is an outdated practice and would be quite a morbid thing to do to such an iconic animal. Instead, his shell will be removed, preserved, and go on display in St Helena.
Furthermore, the Saints would like to raise funds for a life-size bronze statue of Johnathan to put up in his honor and his memory. That day is definitely one that is being dreaded by thousands if not, millions across the globe.