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Getting to Know the Locals

   

Seychelles, Desroches Island

The Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) is unique to Seychelles. When humans first arrived in the Western Indian Ocean there were at least nine species of giant tortoises living on islands in the region (five in the Mascarenes, two on Madagascar, and two in Seychelles). In Seychelles, there were giant tortoises living on the granitic (inner) islands and also in the remote southern Aldabra group of islands. Sadly, humans drove them all to extinction, except for those living on Aldabra Atoll, which is the most remote island group in the Seychelles; but even at Aldabra, the tortoise population was much reduced by the late 19th century.

Tortoises did not naturally occur in the Amirantes group of islands when Europeans discovered the islands in the 16th century. This is probably because the Amirantes are young sand cay islands that emerged above sea level only about 4,000 years earlier.  So, a breeding colony of Aldabra giant tortoises was established on Desroches, comprising individuals from the Aldabra population.

The giant tortoises on Desroches are under the care of the Island Conservation Society (ICS), which oversees the running of the tortoise breeding program and works to ensure the well-being of the entire Desroches population, which includes more than 150 animals.

While staying at Four Seasons Resort Seychelles at Desroches Island, guests are encouraged to visit the Tortoise Sanctuary, where they can learn more about their habits and way of life. For example:

  • An Aldabra giant tortoise drinks through its nose.
  • They can live for more than 150 years.
  • Males are larger than females, growing to approximately 150 centimetres (60 inches) in carapace length and a weight of up to 250 kilograms (550 pounds).
  • The underside of a female tortoise is flat, while that of an adult male is concave (juvenile males all look like females.)
  • Females lay up to 25 eggs at a time and these take between two and six months to hatch.
  • Females have longer toenails on their back legs to help them dig nests for their eggs.

On Desroches Island, you can encounter tortoises in any of the following five situations:

  • The Tortoise Sanctuary, nearly 5 hectares (12 acres)  in area, where the adult breeding population resides.
  • The Juvenile Tortoise Pen (located at the east end of the Tortoise Sanctuary), where tortoises more than 5 kilograms (11 pounds) are kept until they reach more than 15 kilograms (33 pounds).
  • The Baby Tortoise Pen (located at the east end of the Tortoise Sanctuary), where tortoises more than 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) are kept until they reach 5 kilograms (11 pounds) in weight.
  • The Hatchling Pen (located at the east end of the Tortoise Sanctuary), where tortoises less than 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) stay in a protected environment.
  • Free ranging tortoises that roam the island under natural conditions.