Ancient tortoise awaits influx of visitors

China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-27 07:35

JAMESTOWN, St. Helena - He is a tourist attraction worth traveling a long way to see - Jonathan the giant tortoise is perhaps the world's oldest land animal, living in pampered luxury on the remote British island of St. Helena.

Aged at least 185 - though no one knows for certain - Jonathan should prepare himself for an influx of visitors now that an airport has opened on the small island in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean.

The island's most famous resident, Jonathan slowly roams the lush gardens of the governor's house, eating carrots, lettuce, cucumber, apples and pears prepared in the governor's kitchen.

He appears on the island's five-pence coin, on immigration stamps, and in old black-and-white photographs alongside Boer War prisoners in the early 20th century.

"He is an institution, my V.I.P. - Very Important Patient," said his vet Catherine Man, during her weekly checkup of Jonathan, who stretched out his long, wrinkled neck to eat some chopped carrot.

"He knows our voices and is very gentle, but it can be a bit dangerous for my fingers when I feed him."

Jonathan originates from the Seychelles but the circumstances of his arrival on St. Helena remain a mystery and the exact year is much disputed.

Some unconfirmed reports suggest 1882 - a few decades after Napoleon died in exile on the island on 1821.

St. Helena, located 1,900 kilometers from the African mainland, is one of the most remote places on Earth.

Until now, the island's only link to the outside world was by ship, but the new airport brings tourists on a weekly commercial flight from Johannesburg.

They will be able to visit Jonathan, viewing him and his three younger companions - Emma, David and Frederica - from a designated "corridor" to ensure the tortoises are left largely undisturbed.

Lisa Phillips, the governor of St. Helena, said that when she arrived to take up the post last year she went to meet Jonathan before she stepped inside the governor's house.

"He loves company," she said, even suggesting that venerable Jonathan is attracted to Emma, a mere youth at the age of 49.

"He still enjoys the ladies," Phillips said.

Agence France - presse

(China Daily 11/27/2017 page10)

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