The millions of years that the Seychelles islands remained uninhabited enabled a unique collection of flora and fauna to develop and thrive. There are an estimated 75 endemic plant species currently found in the Seychelles plus an further 25 species estimated to be in the Aldabra atoll – not to mention the huge number of unique land and marine life that call the Seychelles islands home.
The most well known plant species is undoubtedly the Coco-de-mer, a endemic species of palm that can be found mainly on the islands of Praslin and nearby Curieuse. If you haven’t already read our blog post of the famous “Love Nut” then you can read all about it right here.
Sadly like many other delicate island ecosystems, the Seychelles suffered a loss of biodiversity during early human history, which included the disappearance of most of the giant tortoises from its main granite islands, the felling of coastal and mid-level forests, and the extinction of species such as the chestnut flanked white eye, Seychelles Parakeet and saltwater crocodile.
Today the Seychelles Islands are fully committed to conservation and are world-renowned for its success in protecting its endemic flora, fauna and marine parks. This weeks blog is about our largest protected species, the gentle giants of the Seychelles, the Aldabra Giant Tortoise.
Thankfully due the Seychelles amazing conservation efforts, the islands have seen the giant tortoise population significantly restored on many of the Seychelles’ islands, making the Aldabra population the largest in the world once again. Don’t be surprised if you come across one of these gentle giants on your travels, commonly seen roaming free and/or sunning themselves on the roads of our smaller islands.
Similar in size to the famous Galápagos giant tortoise, the Aldabra giant tortoises averages 122 cm in length with an average weight of a whopping 250 kg. The females tortoises are generally smaller and lighter than their male counterparts, coming in at approximately 91 cm in length and a wafer-thin 159 kg in weight.
Both the male and female Aldabra giant tortoises have stocky, heavily scaled legs to support their large frame and boast a distinctive, high, domed shape brown/tan shell. Their necks are surprising long, even for its great size, which helps the animal munch on tree branches up to a meter off the ground.
Amazingly these large tortoises are among the longest-lived animals on the planet. Some individual Aldabra giant tortoises are thought to be over 200 years of age, but this is difficult to verify because they tend to outlive their human observers.
An Aldabra giant tortoise named “Adwaita” was reputed to have been the oldest giant tortoise in the world (so far), passing away at the ripe of age of 255 in 2006 (born: 1750). Adwaita was reportedly one of four Aldabra giant tortoises brought by British seamen from the Seychelles Islands as gifts to Robert Clive of the British East India Company in the 18th century, and came to Kolkata (Calcutta) Zoo in 1875.
Today, “Jonathan”, a Seychelles Giant Tortoise currently living in St Helena, is thought to be the oldest living giant tortoise in the world coming in at a ripe old age of 184, with “Esmeralda” the famed Aldabra Giant Tortoise coming in a close second at the age of 170 years young.
Jonathan made news headlines earlier this year, taking his first bath in 184 years. Check out this amusing news clip of the old man scrubbing up nicely.
If you’re in La Digue, you can see a fantastic herd of these gentle souls at the stunning L’Union Estate. For more information on this historic estate check out our previous blog post – L’Union Estate and the famous Anse Source d’Argent beach.
A word of warning however… whilst completely harmless, these gentle giants have a sharp beak-like mouth designed for tearing through leaves and twigs, so be sure to watch your fingers when you hand-feed these beautiful creatures.
Be sure to tag @lenautiqueseychelles in all your “Giant Tortoise” social media posts – we love these gentle giants!