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Seychelles Giant Tortoise News

Seychelles Giant Tortoise Conservation Project

Patron: Sir David Attenborough

No. 30 January 2011

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.

In December 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 (jmorgan@enrt.gov.sc). 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 in the next newsletter once we have secured a new home for all the tortoises.