Seychelles Giant Tortoise Conservation Project
Patron: Sir David Attenborough
No. 30 January 2011
Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles.
In this newsletter we had hoped to be able to tell you about the release of the tortoises on Silhouette. We were going to tell you how, with your help and support, together we had contributed to restoring the biodiversity in our newest National Park. Unfortunately this is not to be and we have a major upheaval to report instead.
We arrived back on Silhouette early in December at the end of a difficult year of cancer treatment for Gill in the U.K. Two days later we were shocked to receive notification from Islands Development Company (the government company which manages Silhouette) that they wanted us out of the buildings and off the island by the end of that month. We appealed to both the Vice-President and the Minister for Environment to have this decision reversed, but had no useful response for six weeks. Eventually, on 25th January, a meeting was arranged with IDC and the Ministry of Environment to try to resolve the problem of our sudden eviction from Silhouette. The upshot of this is that we were given a further two months to pack up and leave however,, the real blow is that both IDC and the Ministry of Environment made it clear that they do not want tortoises on Silhouette. We have been told to find other homes for our huge family of 166 beautiful, gentle giant tortoises.
Our intention has always been to restore the tortoises to their natural habitat, and it seems to us extraordinary that they should not be welcomed as an integral part of the new Silhouette National Park. These are endemic animals that roamed the islands for millennia before the arrival of man.
We are extremely grateful for all the financial and moral support you have all given us over the years and we are very sad to be unable to complete the project in exactly the way we had planned. We are now looking at alternative islands where we could release the tortoises and they would be happy and secure. Cousine island (a privately managed nature reserve) has already expressed enthusiasm for taking on our hololissa tortoises; this would be a good solution for them as Cousine already has two massive old males of that type. We are hoping to rehome the arnoldis on another of the small well-managed conservation islands. If we can do that then, although for the time being giant tortoises will not roam on Silhouette, they will have a secure wild future on other islands.
Through your support of our endeavours, after nearly 14 years of effort on behalf of the Seychelles giant tortoises, we have been able to produce a new generation of Seychelles giant tortoises. This means that we have secured their future for at least another 150 years. In our rapidly changing world that is a significant achievement.
If you would like to express your distress at the news of our eviction from Silhouette please write to the Seychelles Minister for Environment, P.O. Box 166, Victoria, Mahe, Seychelles (firstname.lastname@example.org). We do not expect this would change anything, but it is important that the authorities know that there are people who really care about the tortoises.
We will update you with further news ion the next newsletter once we have secured a new home for all the tortoises.
Dr. Justin Gerlach
It was distressing to receive this news from Justin Gerlach earlier this year and we desperately wanted to help find a solution for the tortoises and to ensure research and records on the tortoises could be continued after their release on a new island.
We therefore offed to buy the necessary microchips so that each tortoise could be identified at a later date.
New homes have been found; the arnoldis group (including Oliphant, adopted by the BCG) will go to North Island and the Hololissa group will go to Cousine Island.
Jackie Stevens has done a fantastic job in getting all the quotes from firms for the microchips and ending up with a superb deal which included two free ‘guns’ We have managed to get the microchips to Justin and they will be on their way to the Seychelles in mid-March.
We wish them well in their new home.
Photo: arnoldis group (including Oliphant) waiting to go to North Island