Baby giant tortoise © Glenn Jackway
The baby tortoise is probably just a few years old. It is estimated to weigh just 500 grams, and is a mere 15 centimetres long from nose to tail. It provided a rare and thrilling photo opportunity for the group of visitors – it’s not often you need a macro lens to photograph tortoises in Seychelles!
‘It is very unusual to find young tortoises of this very small size in the wild,’ said island manager Joel Souyave at the time of the discovery. ‘We see larger juveniles than this, when they are around 40 centimetres long and weigh 20 kilograms or so – making them around 10 to 15 years old – and obviously a little easier to see.’
Cousin Island is home to some 30 Giant Tortoises, many of them male. A few years ago two additional females were brought to even up the numbers a bit, and to encourage breeding. This seems to have been a success. Although tortoises are quite conspicuous and audible when mating, evidence of nesting is much more difficult to witness, even though the whole egg-laying process takes over 11 hours.
The tortoises roam freely around the island, feeding on grass, leaves and fallen fruits. ‘The discovery of such a small individual shows that on an island free of rats, cats, pigs and dogs, the reptiles have a good chance of survival,’ remarked Joel.
Studies on Aldabra, where all today’s Seychelles Giant Tortoises originated, and where a large population survives, have shown that the first five years of a young tortoise’s life are fraught with dangers. It has been estimated that only 4.5% of hatchlings will make it to age five. New-born tortoises on Cousin are still susceptible to being eaten by crabs and some birds, such as heron species.
It is very encouraging to know that the tortoises are breeding and to know that Cousin’s oldest tortoise George, at approximately 125 years old, can groom his successors. Having survived its first few years, the new recruit has a better than average chance of matching the grand old age of George, the oldest resident and – who knows – maybe even the father.
Nature Seychelles, 27th January 2006.