Blog

CGO Ecology on tour in Zanzibar


As the field season drew to a close in late October, far-flung places beckoned for me. With work generally fairly slack over the winter period, I prefer to use the opportunity to travel, see new places, new cultures, landscapes, wildlife, and combine this with a spot of 'continued professional development' along the way. I'm currently in Zanzibar, the famous Spice Islands off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean.


A must-see port of call for herpetologists is Changu or 'Prison Island', home to a population of Aldabran giant tortoises originating from the Seychelles. Stories vary about how they arrived on a small Zanzibari island, but they were certainly brought here a long time ago. There are more than a hundred today, and each has its carapace painted with its age - the oldest being (allegedly) 185 years old. They are effectively a captive population, fed by their human guardians, and the population could not sustain itself naturally on such a small island. Knowing they will be fed bunches of local greenery, they approach the small but steady stream of tourists, and crane their necks to eat.

Signs at the entrance to the sanctuary say that the British Navy brought several tortoises to the island in 1919, but other sources suggest they arrived in the nineteenth century. Apparently they were a gift from the Seychelles Government, and were kept by the British Navy for some time before being given a new home on the aptly-named Prison Island. They seem well cared-for, however, and as a tortoise's pace of life in slow and monotonous, they are presumably happy enough.