Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Thomas, the Oldest Tortoise on Mahe Island

1 November 2017

We moved from the Bougainville area of Mahe to the area known as Anse la Mouche, or Anse a la Mouche - which translates as Beach Fly, or maybe Fly Beach.  
We're staying at a place that is owned by the woman who usually runs the villa we stayed in up that crazy hill in Bougainville - but this is about half a block from the beach, and we're the only guests here at the moment.  It's one of those long stories, but the woman's mother is taking care of this place, along with a number of young men who help out with maintenance, garden, and all that.

So we're basically in a Seychellois home, which is very interesting.  Much less anonymous and impersonal than a hotel, and we've had long chats with Mary, our hostess.  And we're very comfy here, in a separate wing with our room and bathroom, and a second bedroom we use as more of an office.

The most astonishing thing I discovered here is that this property is home to Thomas, the oldest land tortoise on this island (Mahe).  Thomas is 199 years old, and seems to be the last male of his particular species of tortoise.  There are others, but he's the last male.  The botanical gardens in Victoria has a collection of female tortoises, and Thomas has been brought over to impregnate them.  But Thomas either didn't like any of these lady tortoises, or he's decided he's too old for making babies.  At any rate, he doesn't have any sons or grandsons to carry on the family name.

Now, in the enclosure with Thomas is Melanie, a female.  Thomas also doesn't particularly like Melanie, and refuses to have anything to do with her.  Melanie was brought over to try to produce more tortoises, but, well, Thomas is picky.  And old.  And curmudgeonly. Just a grumpy old tortoise.

But he is HUGE!  Probably almost 4 feet long (1.3 m), and I have no idea how tall he stands - he could look over the cement wall of his enclosure, which is a good 3 or 4 feet (1 to 1.3 m) high.  Seriously, I've seen some big tortoises, but he's one of the biggest.  And oldest!

The third tortoise in the enclosure doesn't have a name.  And it isn't known whether this is a male or female tortoise.  It just wandered onto the property a while ago, so the family caught it and put it in the enclosure or turtle corral.  They also advertised that this tortoise was found, because the government keeps records of who is caring for which tortoise.  These are endangered species, and are protected by Seychelles laws and regulations.  I'm not sure if there's an actual register of tortoises, but some office or person keeps track of all of the tortoises.

Except on Aldabra island and the surrounding atolls - this is where the giant tortoises originated.  The Seychelle Islands are comprised of 115 scattered islands and atolls, some populated with people, even more unpopulated, and a few populated with only tortoises.  There are about 94,000 to 95,000 human residents of the Seychelles.  But on Aldabra and those couple of atolls, there are roughly 100,000 to 150,000 giant tortoises.  So yes, these huge animals outnumber the people living in the Seychelles!

No one is sure if the tortoises are indigenous to all the islands, although fossils of similar animals have been found as far away as Madagascar.  But there are confirmed reports of these tortoises occasionally floating long distances across the ocean - one tortoise washed up on the shores of Tanzania, about 1400 miles away (2290 km)!!!

More information about these tortoises (and this floating tortoise) here:

We took the bus to Victoria yesterday, and were just wandering around.  We saw a tee shirt with the giant tortoise image on it, and I told the woman I had met Thomas the tortoise.  She asked if he was at the botanical gardens again, and I explained that he lives at the place where we are staying.  And I asked her if he's really the oldest tortoise on Mahe - she agreed, he definitely is!

So we're quite impressed to be staying at the home of this island celebrity!!!

I keep trying to get photos of the flying foxes, but they're pretty fast as they fly by, or too far away for a decent photo.  Same thing with the tropicbirds.  So I may just have to lift some photos from online.  I'll keep trying.

The property here has a Seychellois apple tree in the front yard - it has beautiful red fruit, but they aren't apples the way we think of apples in North America and Europe.  These are sometimes called wax apples or Java apples, and the plants originated in Indonesia.  Apparently the fruit is rather sour, although some people enjoy them.  The birds seem to really like them; I noticed that some of the fruit was partially eaten, and watched, hoping for the fruit bats to come close.  No, there were some average brown or grey birds, maybe a thrush or starling or local robin, eating the fruit very enthusiastically.

My little red fody friends have been building a nest in the wax apple tree, next to a batch of still-green apples.  I've been watching them - their nest is the kind that looks like a rather long narrow basket, almost like a sock.  Mr Fody has been doing much of the work for his lady love.  But it turns out he isn't much of an architect or contractor - we had quite a rain storm last night, complete with thunder and lightning, and I'm guessing there was quite a bit of wind as well.  I looked this morning, as we had breakfast on the front porch.  And the nest was in shambles, just a bunch of grasses and little branches, soggy and wet and hanging in the tree.  Little Mr Fody came by and just sat in the tree, looking very dejected over the demise of his nest.  I felt very bad for them, but, well, what do I know about nest building, it isn't as if I can help the family out.

This storm is an indication that rainy season is beginning.  We had initially thought we'd renew our visas and stay longer, but the length of the rain storms is increasing, as well as the intensity.  Mary told us that by December, it will be raining nearly all day every day.  So we'll head out before that, and go somewhere drier and sunnier.

Oh, and while we were talking about the rain, Mary told us about the Indian Ocean tsunami and what happened here - as I said, we're maybe half a block from the beach, it's just across the street from the end of the yard.  The family saw the sea coming up across the yard and into the house - the water was maybe a yard or meter high, and just kept coming into the house!  Everyone either ran up the hill or climbed up the water tower here, and just waited it out.  Eventually the water receded, and they were able to clean up the mess and go back to living in the house.

I've heard about the tsunami from other people here.  We met a large crowd of Seychellois at a restaurant one day, all having lunch and being very friendly.  They all seemed to have come by boats, so I asked about the waves that break so far off shore, wondering if it was a coral reef, or a rocky shelf, or what.  Turns out that yes, that's a coral reef way out there, it sort of rings at least the east side of the island.  So that's where the waves break, right where the coral comes up close to the surface of the ocean.

This one man said that in the 2004 tsunami, the water receded to about 50 meters (150 feet) beyond that reef, and it was all exposed!  And then, when the water rushed back in, it didn't really come back in a wave or a wall of water, as we all imagine from movies.  The water just started coming back in and rising about a meter or yard above the normal level, so all the buildings along the beaches and shorelines flooded.  Fortunately it wasn't bad over here on the west side of the Indian Ocean, not the way it was over near the epicenter in Indonesia.  But it is still a recent memory for those who lived though this frightening event.

Today is All Saints' Day, a national holiday in the Seychelles.  In Victoria, we saw people buying artificial flowers, and the cemetery we passed while riding the bus (in the rain) was full of decorated gravestones.  So it seems that the practice here is to visit one's deceased loved ones and put colorful bunches of flowers all around the grave.  Rather sad and morbid, but it certainly made the cemetery look cheerful.

Okay, so here's a map showing the locations of the four places we've stayed in the Seychelles.  Anse la Mouche is on the west side of the island - about 1000 miles west of us is Kenya.  That's the closest point on a continent.  India is about as far away, but to the northeast.  

And we'll see what else the week brings.


  1. Thank you again for your very interesting blog with great pics and even a map!
    How is the food? Are you cooking and eating in at all or always out?

    1. It's been a mix - we get brekkie here at our B & B, and usually eat our mid-day meal out, making it our biggest meal. Then something light for dinner in our room, since we aren't near restaurants. When we had a kitchen, I did some cooking for us, but we don't have that here. Local food is a lot of fruit, fish, other seafood, and curries with rice. We're enjoying it!

  2. LOVE this! 199 years old is crazy. Poor old curmudgeonly tortoise! :-)