Aldabra Tortoise

Date Posted: 07/04/2017

Offering a perfect opportunity to venture through the natural wonders of this tropical paradise, visitors to Seychelles can enjoy many walks and trails. Explore the flora and fauna of the islands while basking in glorious sunshine… ah, now that really is nature at its finest!

No visit to Seychelles would be complete without a formal introduction to the famous Aldabra tortoise! A native species that dates back about 150,000 years, it has fought its way back from the brink of extinction - thanks to intensive conservation programmes.

aldabra tortoise

History of the species and its ancestors

The Aldabra giant tortoise, known as Aldabrachelys gigantean, is one of the largest tortoise species in the world. A native of the Aldabra atoll, at one time the species was found on many Indian Ocean islands – sometimes outnumbering the human population. However, Aldabra numbers depleted and they were almost extinct by 1840, largely because sailors from passing ships captured them for food.

Historically, there were several sub-species of giant tortoise including Arnold’s giant tortoise and Daudin’s giant tortoise, both from Mahé; and Seychelles giant tortoise once found on Cerf, Frégate, Cousine, Round, Mahé, Praslin and Silhouette. Sadly, they all became extinct during the 1800s.

Where is the Aldabra tortoise found today?

Today, the Aldabra tortoise lives wild on North, Curieuse and Cousin islands and also in enclosures across Seychelles, including in La Digue's Union Estate. Fregate Island is home to around 2,200 tortoises as a result of a sanctuary breeding programme.

In the early 1990s, the population on Fregate Island was only about 150 but conservationists have progressively restored their habitat to its natural state and a nursery has been set up to monitor the development of the young tortoise.

Habitat and feeding

Primarily herbivores, the Aldabra tortoise can survive in different kinds of habitat including low scrub, grasslands, mangrove swamps and coastal dunes. A phenomenon known as "tortoise turf" has also evolved, consisting of more than 20 species of herbs and grass. They eat mainly grasses, plant stems and leaves, occasionally eating small invertebrates. They also eat some fruits.

What is their typical behaviour?

They can live individually or in a herd, gathering mainly on open grassland. In the morning, they are more active as they browse for food. Later in the day, they rest in swamps or they dig burrows in the ground to keep cool.

aldabra tortoise

How/when do they breed?

The female lays between nine and 25 eggs in a dry nest between February and May, producing multiple clutches of eggs. However, usually less than half of the eggs are fertile. The incubation period is eight months. The tiny young tortoises hatch between October and December and are independent from the start.

The Aldabra tortoise is one of the longest-lived creatures in the world. Some are thought to be more than 200 years old but this is difficult to verify, as they outlive the humans who are observing them! One tortoise, Adwaita, was believed to be 255 years old when he died in 2006 at Calcutta Zoo.

How big do they grow?

The Aldabra tortoise is one of the largest tortoises on the planet. The carapace (shell) of an average male is 105cm (41 inches) long, weighing 150kg (330lb). The females are usually smaller, measuring 90cm (35 inches) long and weighing 120kg (260lb).

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