When Jonathan met Sally – and the story went global

 

Jonathan stares at the camera, beak open wide

Jonathan the tortoise, pictured by Guy Gatien

The BBC’s prestigious From Our Own Correspondent programme evidently has a fascination for St Helena: the island has featured on it at least four times in the space of five years. Judged against the size of the island’s population, this might make it – unofficially – the most interesting place on the planet, in the eyes of one BBC editor, at least.

Strange, then, that the BBC refused to answer a Freedom of Information request a couple of years ago, asking how many programmes it had recorded on St Helena in the 80-plus years of the corporation’s existence.

It claimed the matter was editorially sensitive, but it may well be that it didn’t want to admit that the answer, as far as anyone can recall, would be “none”. Foreign and independent documentary crews have been out, but Britain’s state broadcaster has not done so well.

From Our Own Correspondent, though, has enjoyed rich pickings from the island – this time, with a piece on Jonathan the tortoise, the world’s oldest known living creature.

The full text of Sally Kettle’s piece was published in the St Helena Independent on 14 March 2014 and can be found on her website.

Sally achieved the distinction of having an extract played on BBC Radio 4’s Pick Of The Week programme a couple of days later, when it was introduced with the question, How can you tell whether a 200-year-old tortoise is happy?

Jonathan’s age dropped to a mere 182 in the piece itself (leaving aside the fact that his exact age isn’t known; he could be 20 years younger).

It was Sally’s passionate delivery of her script that really stood out. Click here to listen.

She describes watching Joe the Vet feed Jonathan, whose blindness and blunted beak have made it difficult to find food for himself – but whose greedy hunger almost cost Joe the tip of a finger on one occasion. 

As often reported, the old boy has no difficulty mating, producing what Joe calls “a noise like a loud, harsh escape of steam from a giant battered old kettle, often rounded off with a deep oboe-like grunt.”

Sally reports that her piece was picked up “like crazy” on Twitter, the micro-blogging site.

Her website also includes an interview with the St Helena Wirebird, in which she talks about the visit she made (at two weeks’ notice) to film a documentary about St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and Ascension.

She says she can see the benefits of the island’s airport project, including medical support, work opportunities and tourism.

“But I can also appreciate the drawbacks that are perhaps difficult for outsiders to understand,” she says. “I spoke to the head girl at Prince Andrew School and she explained her reticence. She told me that the voyage on the RMS prepares you for the gentleness of the island; it gives you time to think about the journey and appreciate the remoteness the islanders’ experience. When tourists arrive on the plane they will just step off without that appreciation. I can see her point. The trouble is the airport is coming, and I’m not sure everyone is prepared for it.”

SEE ALSO: 
Carnival catcall echoes round the world – St Helena on From Our Own Correspondent
Jonathan the Tortoise on From Our Own Correspondent
Sally Kettle website
Rower Sally heads for islands (the easy way)

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