A curious item last weekend attracted my attention and made me wish I was a tortoise, still going strong at the age of 186. Apparently, never again will the hills of St Helena resound to the eerie sound of Jonathan, a giant tortoise, trying to mate. At an estimated age of 186, Jonathan appears doomed to celibacy after vets decided against an operation that might have helped him pursue female tortoises.


The British government revealed that although Jonathan continues to lead an active life, vets have decided that surgery to remove the cataracts that have blinded him is too high risk. Jonathan has also lost his sense of smell, leaving him cruelly bereft of the senses he needs to mate.

Lord Ahmad, a Foreign Office minister told the Lords that St Helena, a South Atlantic island, is not conducive to breeding the species of tortoise. The last female known to have become pregnant died in 1918 after she apparently fell over a cliff while attempting to lay eggs, according to a website maintained by island resident, John Turner.

For years, Jonathan’s companion was a giant tortoise named Frederica who never fell pregnant for reasons that became clear when vets found that he was male. He was subsequently named Frederic. It may never be known if Jonathan is gay, as reports have suggested. But St Helena appears to have lost forever the sound of his mating activity, described by a vet as like ‘a loud, harsh escape of steam from a giant, battered old kettle, often rounded off with a deep oboe-like grunt.’

I feel sorry for Jonathan, gay or otherwise, who must now miss his love-mate when, at his age, he kisses love goodbye. On the other hand, he had a jolly good run which we humans would yearn to have.

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