Dr. Catherine Man with Fredricka and Jonathan May 30. Photo provided by St. Helena Government

Inside the Paddock of the Oldest Living Land Animal

June 15, 2017 By Sarah Pitts

Some of the world's oldest land animals live on an isolated volcanic rock in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean.

Jonathan the tortoise, the oldest resident of the island, is approximately 184-years-old.

Fredricka, one of the other four tortoises at the Governor of St. Helena's residence, Plantation House, underwent shell treatment May 30. Her shell had lesions caused from a combination of erosion and bacteria, which could have been caused by things like skin disease and rainwater, said veterinarian Dr. Catherine Man.

Dr. Man used a dremel attachment on a power tool to drill into the shell, something she's had experience doing when she worked at Peighton Zoo in England. She has been on St. Helena since October 2016 working as a veterinarian and caring for the tortoises.

"We use them a lot in what we call 'exotic animal medicine' - so that's not our usual dog, cat, horse, pig or sheep," Dr. Man said. "So for birds for example, we use them to trim beaks or to trim claws, and obviously for tortoises it's perfect for shells."

Because tortoises move slow and heal slow, watching Fredricka and the other tortoises requires collaboration between the Plantation House staff, groundskeepers and the veterinary team. Everyone, Governess included, helps to keep watch over these prized inhabitants of the island.

At the first check-up a week after treatment, Dr. Man said Fredricka's shell was healing well - other than that the rain had soaked the bandages.

"I'm always cautious at the beginning, but I'm very happy with how it's going at the moment," Dr. Man said.

Dr. Man and senior worker Clayton Andrews usually visit the tortoises every (or every other) Friday to feed the tortoises fruits and vegetables. Andrews has been working with St. Helena's tortoises since 2004, and has developed a bond with them.

"The tortoises always like to come and see me, so I just got to make sure they're alright, you know, nice and healthy and keep feeding them and that," Andrews said.

Both Andrews and Man know the different personalities of the tortoises and say that David is especially mischievous. The tortoise had recently escaped from the paddock and climbed all the way behind the other side of Plantation House, cutting part of the fence down as he went.

"Every day is a different day, anything can happen," Dr. Man said.

Although each tortoise has it's own unique character, Jonathan remains the most widely-known, consistently attracting tourists to Plantation House.

"Jonathan's is unique in that they think he's only one of a handful of left of his particular species," Dr. Man said. "He's special being so old, he's like a V.I.P. - very important patient."

Veterinarian Dr. Catherine Man and senior worker Clayton Andrews talk about the tortoises. Video by Sarah Pitts
Tortoise Facts:
  • In 1991, the Honourary French Consul presented Fredricka as a gift after she had lived at Longwood House, the residence of Napoleon Bonaparte during his exile, for 19 years.
  • Jonathan was given as a gift from the Seychelles in 1882 when he was approximately 50 years old. Tortoises David and Emma were also from the Seychelles , but arrived in the late 1960s.
  • Last year, when Jonathan got his first bath, a video of the event went viral.

June 15, 2017 Ginger Dossey
I love this story!!
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