Tortoises in Rodrigues

Five endemic species of giant tortoises once existed on the Mascarene Islands, of which two were found on Rodrigues (Cylindraspis peltastes and C.vosmaeri). According to eyewitness reports, the tortoises were initially abundant on all of the islands, with possibly 300,000 individuals at the time of François Leguat in 1691. However, all species became extinct shortly after man arrived on the islands, with the last giant tortoise being seen on Rodrigues during the late 1700s. Their dissapearance is blamed on intensive harvesting by man (for oil and food) and the predation of eggs and juveniles by the introduced pigs and rats.

The two tortoises species that you see at the reserve have been introduced as anlogues, to replace the extinct species with ones that are related, and fill the same important ecological role as browsers and grazers, eating and then spreading the seeds of native plants.

During 2006 and 2007, 65 radiated and 490 Aldabra tortoises were brought to Rodrigues from La Vanille Réserve des Mascareignes in Mauritius, which has had successful captive breeding programmes for more than 20 years. We now have more than 650 radiated and 600 Aldabra tortoises here and all the young tortoises seen were born in the reserve. Ultimately, our aim is to have over 1,000 adult tortoises of each species roaming freely in our restored native forest.

Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea)
also known as D elephantina and D.Dussumieri)

This is last surviving giant tortoise species of those that once inhabited the Indian Ocean islands. Its is one teh tortoise species in the world and has special adaptations for grazing short vegetation and drink from shallow pools.

The giant tortoises now seen on Mauritius are mostly derived from animals imported to Mauritius from the Seychelles in the 1880's, following the recommendation of Charles Darwin, who was concerned that the Aldabra species would become extinct. He wanted to have captive breeding of endangered species as a conservation measure. Following Darwin's intervention, the governor of Mauritius and the Seychelles agreed to the introduction of the tortoise to Pamplemousses Botanic Gardens.

Conservation status: vulnerable
Weight: around 250kg
Length of carapace: 120cm
Diet: a variety of grasses and leaves, and some small invertebrates
Long-lived, known to reach over 100 years
Males are larger than females
Eggs (in the wild) weigh around 80g and are the size of a table tennis ball
Endemic to the Aldabra atoll in the Seychelles, which has remained protected from human influence and is home to around 85,000 tortoises

Radiata tortoise (Astrochelys radiata)
This is considered to be one of the most beautiful tortoises in the world, with a carapace(shell) decorated with brillant yellow lines radiating from the centre of each plate, creating a very distinctive pattern which also provides them with camouflage in their natural habitat.

During French rule and continuing into the 1930s, huge numbers of radiated tortoises were exported to Réunion and Mauritius from Madagascar, principally for food. However, large numbers were kept as pets and have been bred on both islands ever since.

In the wild in Madagascar this species is rapidly declining in numbers due to habitat destruction, hunting for food and over-exploitation for the pet trade.

Conservation status: vulnerable.
Weight: up to 10kg
Carapace length: 40cm
Diet: grass and other plants
Long lived, with an individual recorded as living at least 189 years
Endemic to south and south-west Madagascar, from thr coast to 50km inland, once occuring in the tens of millions
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