The Aldabra Giant Tortoises on Cousin Island Special Reserve are with no doubt one its greatest attractions. Visitors instantly fall in love with them when they meet individuals hanging out at the beach. Some are quite famous, with the one named George being the most photographed. He recently appeared in all his glory in a full page of the Lonely Traveller Magazine.
Giant tortoises were introduced to Cousin Island, like on most islands. The Aldabra Atoll is the place where the largest population of wild tortoises exists. One of the last introduction was rather dramatic, says Dr. Nirmal Shah Nature Seychelles Chief Executive, with the tortoises nearly breaking the boats they were on.
Since then the resident Cousin population has grown, roaming freely and thriving on a diverse diet of vegetation and fallen fruit, and fresh water from the marsh that also keeps them cool. They play a key role in the habitat, taking the ecological place of herbivores.
To monitor the island's population and health, staff on Cousin carry out censuses and also tag the tortoises.
Two years ago, a census of the island’s Giant tortoise population, found and tagged 35 individuals. This showed a gradual increase in their population, the first census in 1996 having only recorded 10 individuals
This year, Cousin reached new heights with the most recent census indentifying 57 tortoises inhabiting the island, nine of which have only recently emerged from their nest. The largest tortoise recorded was 154cm long by 157cm wide; it wouldn’t even be able to fit through your front door!.
The census was completed by staff and volunteers on the island, who searched and surveyed the various habitats for as many tagged and untagged tortoises as they could find in Cousin's varied terrain Those that were already tagged were re-measured, recording the length and width of their shell, while those that were found untagged were marked by gluing a plastic numbered disc to the tortoise’s carapace and then their shells were measured.
Next year it is anticipated that the number will continue to increase as the very small tortoises which are difficult to locate will have grown to a size where they are easier to find and as more nests are found.