We arrive on the white sand beach of Curieuse Island, by the massive granite rocks. It is warm and sunny and some local children are playing on the shore. As the island is part of the marine park it is strictly protected and only a few families live there.
A giant tortoise walks along the grass by the beach towards an area where a local family are having a barbecue. These giant tortoises are very used to humans and enjoy being patted. A young child walks over to it and strokes its neck. Meanwhile another tortoise has wandered over to the group and a young boy is climbing onto its shell. The tortoise barely seems to notice and the boy rides it for few minutes. Nearby someone has cracked a coconut open and a third tortoise seems to be enjoying the sweet snack.
When the French first visited Curieuse in 1768 they presented specimens of five tortoises to Isle de France (Mauritius) authorities, the last of which died in 1910. Its body was later presented to the British Museum in London. The fate of the other Seychelles tortoises was rather different. As a source of food they were hunted to virtual extinction by settlers and sailors until, in the 1850s, they could only be found on the isolated Aldabra atoll. In 1874 the British naturalist Charles Darwin, who had studied the giant tortoise of the Galapagos suggested to Mauritius that, to ensure the preservation of the Aldabra tortoise, some should be sent to one of the granitic islands of the Seychelles. The island chosen was Curieuse, and over a number of years groups of tortoises were settled there.
Curieuse island now has a population of around 250 giant tortoises that were brought over from Aldabra in the 1980s and a breeding scheme has been in place for several years to help restore the population. Young tortoises are now carefully looked after in a ‘nursery’ until they reach the age of five, when they will be released.
Just off the beach is the tortoise reserve; an open area where they walk freely. Within the reserve is an enclosure where the tortoises are kept until the age of five. Our guide explains how to identify whether they are male or female, although it is often impossible to tell until they reach sexual maturity at 15 to 20 years old. Male tortoises have longer tails, blunt toenails and a concave bottom shell while females have smoother shells, shorter tails, longer back toenails and a flat bottom shell.
- Information sign at the Doctor’s House
- Information provided by the tortoise reserve