Friday, April 17, 2009

Fancy meeting you here

This is not a Caribbean species nor is it an invasive pest....yet here it is in the Caribbean.


No, this is, of course, an Aldabra Giant Tortoise (Geochelone or more correctly Dipsochelys gigantea). Males can grow to well over 500lb in weight and big enough for a small child to ride....which is awesome.
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Even more awesome is the fact that these guys are now being bred in sufficient numbers for a few to make it into the pet trade which is joyous because a) captive breeding suggests the species is safe; b) it means we can have several aldabran colonies instead of just one (the multi-egg basket theory), c) we have spare aldabrans for other interesting projects (see below) and d) the sort of people who own large luxury resorts and private islands down here can have their own herds. There are I'm reliably informed a number of monsters on Richard Branson's Necker Island, these photos were taken elsewhere.


Nowadays when we think of Giant Tortoises we tend to think only of these guys from Aldabra atoll in the Seychelles or of Lonesome George and his various close relatives from the Galapagos. But historically a number of islands have had very big tortoises including several in the mediterranean, Mauritius and a couple of islands in the Caribbean. This raises the interesting prospect of these free-roaming pets performing a useful quasi-pleistocene rewilding exercise by fulfilling the role of long-departed huge tortoises here. Before one gets too carried away by how exciting this is one should note that big tortoises are actually not all alike and that the various Galapagos species have evolved to fullfill various roles and therefore we cannot assume that just because a tortoise is big it will make a like for like swap for the poorly known extinct Geochelone sp. of the Caribbean.....but they do look cool, they are too expensive to unleash excessively and they won't do much harm so I'm in favour of it. More on Pleistocene Rewilding of Caribbean Islands to come btw.

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