Monday, January 09, 2006

Animal of the Week January 09, 2006 -- Seychelle's tortoise

Hello one and all... I hope you have had a marvellous few weeks, I think I have. I'm a little rusty at this so am going to ease myself in slowly with this week's animal Dipsochelys hololissa (Seychelles giant tortoise).

Once upon a time, the islands of the Indian Ocean were home to many isolated species of giant tortoise. However, during the heyday of seafaring, traders and explorers found that such creatures were great living larders, as they were easier to keep on board than say sheep or quorn-manufacturing facilities. And so, many species of giant tortoise were condemned to the maritime marmite of history.

Until a few years ago, the famous Galapagos giant tortoises, which are unrelated but another example of the tendancy for small animals to become large when isolated on islands, and the Aldabran giant tortoises (from Aldabra -- one of the Seychelles' closest island neighbours) were thought to be the only species left. However, zookeepers around the world have noticed some strange looking tortoises originally classified as "Aldabran". In the past eight years, as many as 40 Seychelles' giant tortoises have been identified and a breeding programme to rescue the species has been started. Individuals can live up to 150 years, continue to grow for the first 40 years of their lives, and can weigh more than 250 kg.

I like the genus name Dipsochelys (lit. thirsty tortoise [from Greek]), sounds like they're drunk. The picture shows an artists impression from 1875 of an Aldabran (left) and a Seychelles (right) giant tortoise. I like to imagine that the young man in the picture was just about to hide behind the tortoise but didn't get down in time to avoid being captured for all history in the artists painstakingly accurate depiction of 1870s Indian Ocean life.


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