Category Archives: Seychelles

#islands2014 Cousin Island: A conservation Success Story

Cousin Island arial shot for who is nature seyshells-001

Aerial view of Cousin Island Specia Reserve

Cousin Island Special Reserve in Seychelles managed by Nature Seychelles  is “one of the world’s great conservation success stories.” It is no ordinary island. Read More »

Rare sighting of the pelagic sea snake at Baie Ternay

The sea snake was spotted at Baie Ternay (Photo courtesy of GVI)

The sea snake was spotted at Baie Ternay (Photo courtesy of GVI)

GVI Seychelles have reported a rare sighting in shallow coastal waters of the Pelagic Sea Snake (Pelamis platura). Members of the volunteer organisation caught sight of the snake when returning from a dive at Baie Ternay on the main island of Mahe. Found in open seas at depths of about 10m, and helpless on land, these sea snakes are not ordinarily seen. And when they are, its usually because they have drifted ashore after rough weather or when sick or injured. This was probably the case with this individual as it was found after a sustained period of strong winds and rough seas, Chris Mason Parker the GVI Seychelles Country Director told Today in Seychelles.

usually found in deep waters (Photo courtesy of GVI)

usually found in deep waters (Photo courtesy of GVI)

“The individual we saw in Baie Ternay briefly attempted to sliver up the beach, but after struggling for a few minutes, turned back to the water and was last seen heading back to see,” he said.

More info on the species can be found on the IUCN species list

The Seychelles Terrapin never existed

Seychelles black mud terrapin (Pelusios subniger parietalis)

Seychelles black mud terrapin (Pelusios subniger parietalis)

By Nirmal Shah

The torti soupap or terrapin (also known as mud turtle) is well known in Seychelles. Actually, biologists said that there were 3 species in Seychelles. One became extinct – the Seychelles terrapin Pelusios seychellensis is  known from only 3 specimens collected in the 19th century and  kept at the Natural History Museum in Vienna and the Zoological Museum in Hamburg. Despite recent searches for this species no further specimens have been found. “Consequently, it was assumed the species had been exterminated”, says Professor Uwe Fritz, director of the Museum of Zoology at the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden.

In a study published in the open source  journal PLOS ONE, Heiko Stukas, Richard Gemel and Fritz  have demonstrated that actually the species was never an endemic.  Genetic analysis of the original specimen from the museum in Vienna proves that the terrapin was another species, Pelusios castaneus, widespread in West Africa.

The species Pelusios seychellensis has therefore never existed.  Taxonomists had always been puzzled that the supposed Seychelles species looked so similar to the West African mud turtles.

Last year, another team led by Fritz published a study that showed that another terrapin species, Pelusios subniger, was not endemic to the Seychelles but had been introduced by man.  So now 2 species of terrapins are off the list of Seychelles endemic animals.

A couple of biologists have been very keen in labelling terrapin and tortoise species as endemic. The French taxonomist Roger Bour resurrected Pelusios seychellles as an endemic species in 1983. In addition, Bour renamed the Seychelles population of Pelusios castanoides and Pelusios subniger as the new Seychelles subspecies Pelusios subniger intergularis and Pelusios subniger parietalis. However , based on the genetic evidence we now know that at least 2 species are not endemics, with the third probably the same as well.

The museum specimens of Pelusios seychelles are now believed to have been mislabelled. As for the other species they could have introduced from the African mainland as food sources.  Perhaps traders or slavers brought them. Torti soupap was, in fact, eaten by Seychellois in the past.

Conservation programmes for these terrapins in the Seychelles will now have to be revised, and scarce conservation funding  used for species that are clearly native and are in danger.  I think that since the terrapins are protected by specific legislation even this needs to be reviewed.
Journal Source, PLOS ONE:

How to handfeed a tropicbird in five easy steps

Iona and the tropicbird

Iona and the tropicbird

We often receive injured or lost birds picked up by concerned members of the public. Recently, someone brought a white-tailed tropicbird juvenile which they had found. Although it was quite big it was unable to fly and so it could not go out to look for food. Riaz, our science coordinator took it home to look after it until it could fly. But he had to leave Mahe and go to Cousin Island for a few days and the bird couldn’t fly yet, so he recruited Martin, our community person, and his children to do the job while he was away. Let’s pick up this story from Iona, Martin’s daughter….

Dad came home from work on Friday afternoon with a box which had ‘bird inside be careful’ written on the top. When Dad stopped moving a bird’s head popped out. It was white with a black and white beak and speckly black bits. I got to hold it on my knee while we drove to a fish stall to get some fish for it. Dad said someone had brought it into his work in a box and we got to take it home to look after it for a few days. When we looked inside we saw the bird had a white body with black speckles. We gave it some fish but it wasn’t very interested, so we left it in the corner of the dining room. This morning we heard a lot of noise from the box and it was trying to spread its wings out so we got a bigger box and gently tipped it in.

Guess what I just did… can you gess? No? ok I’ll tell you, I HAND FED THE BIRD!!!!! well, I held the bird (the bird is called a white tailed tropic bird) while dad held the beak open and Sophie fed it. We have to force feed it because it’s a baby and we have to teach it to fly too! I bet dad is thinking “I wish I hadn’t taken that bird home”. Dad thought he would have to give it some fish and it would fly away. We also have to feed it 4 times a day. this is how to hand feed a tropic bird in 5 simpe stages; 1, mash up some fish or squid with some water and put on a plate. 2, gently grab the bird directly down and tuck your thumbs under it’s head. 3, then you wrap it in a old tea towel. 4, you take 3 people one to hold the bird firmly, the other to hold open the beak ( don’t break the beak.) and the last to shove the food down it’s throat, then the 2nd to close the beak. 5, if the bird shakes it’s head it could get very messy, but if it puts it head back and looks likes it’s choking it’s swallowing. repeat until the plate is empty.

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Martin and the children also left Mahe before the juvenile flew, so they brought it back to the office to be looked after by other staff here. After a couple of days we took it down to the beach next to our office and off it went. Sadly Iona wasn’t here to see it, but she was happy with this ending. Thanks Iona!

Long live the Giant Tortoise!

Giant tortoise of Cousin beach

Giant Tortoise on Cousin beach © Martin Harvey

The News that the oldest living animal in the world, thought to be a giant tortoise who lives on the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean, originated from the Seychelles excited many here last week.

The Telegraph reported that Jonathan is the sole survivor of three tortoises that arrived on St Helena Island in 1882 from the Seychelles. He was already mature when he arrived and was at least 50 years old, therefore his minimum age is estimated to be 178 years old.

Another giant tortoise, an Aldabra Giant Tortoise that died in 2006 in the Alipore Zoological Gardens in Kolkata, India, and whose approximate age was later determined through carbon dating to be 255, was the previous oldest living tortoise  and was also from Seychelles. Adwaita, the pet of a general of the British East India Company,  was captured by British seafarers from the Seychelles and taken to India.

People have always been fascinated by giant tortoises. Even today, their gentle ET-like demeanour, slow lumber and the fact that they will submit to a petting without too much fuss makes them a popular attraction on islands where they have been introduced like Cousin Island Special Reserve. Aldabra Giant Tortoises roam freely around Cousin and the larger ones can usually be found on the beach in the early morning. George, Cousin’s oldest tortoise,  and Kasban, who hangs out near the visitor shelter, are among the favourites and are possibly some of the most photographed tortoises in the world!

The Cousin population was introduced in the past. When the island was sold to ICBP (now BirdLife International) there were several tortoises and they were included in the sale price of the island. They were originally kept impounded in a stone-walled tortoise enclosure of about 2 acres in size until they were released in 1980. In 2000, 6 females were purchased and brought to the Reserve in an adventure filled journey. Now they live free, enjoying a diverse vegetarian diet that includes noni fruits (fruits of the Indian mulberry tree, bwa torti). Perhaps that’s why they live for so long and seem to be full of energy.

Aldabra Giant Tortoises are endemic to the Seychelles. An estimated one hundred thousand of them live in the wild of the Aldabra Atoll, and several hundreds have been introduced to various islands of Seychelles including Curieuse, Fregate and Cousin. They are also widely kept in captivity. But tortoises were nearly wiped out. As an important food source for seafarers visiting Indian Ocean islands in the 17th to 19th centuries, they were hunted, captured and stored for meat on ships. This exploitation, the destruction of habitat and the introduction of predators decimated the populations, with the exception of those on the Aldabra Atoll.

Giant tortoises are listed as ‘Vulnerable’ in the IUCN (World Conservation Union) list of endangered species and their international trade is restricted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).


Zone Australe discovers Cousin

The Reunion TV programme Zone Australe produced by Serge Marizy last year journeyed through Seychelles discovering its magical islands that included the Cousin Island Special Reserve. The programme was aired in Reunion earlier this year and can be seen here in its entirety. Its about 32 minutes and is in French (Reunion Island is a department of France).

With the permission of Serge Marizy, we have extracted the part on Cousin. See Eric, J’elle and David explain its attractions (also in French):

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YouTube DirektCousin Island Courtesy Zone Australe

I sing the songs that make the whole world sing…

What it lacks in plumage (it’s not as brightly coloured as other Sunbirds), the Seychelles Sunbird makes up for in song (and in its lovely Creole name, Kolibri). Since our Dragon Tree flowered, we’ve had a number of these lively birds coming for the nectar. And there’s been lots of singing and marvellous (acrobatic) displays to entertain us at lunch. There have been some among us who’ve called it a racket. We just shoosh them. The males of the species apparently are the loud ones. The Sunbirds are accompanied by a number of bees, but they’ve not been dangerous. Too high on nectar I bet.

Watch me do this!

Watch me do this!

And this!

And this!

The Dragon Tree is a palm like shrub native to the Seychelles (Dracaena reflexa to Science, Bwa Sandel in Creole), found in scrub, woodlands and open spaces throughout the granitic islands. Related species with colourful flowers are grown in gardens.

See me flower

See me flower

From Boise with love: American students get a taste of the islands

On a tour of Cousin

On a tour of Cousin

A group of graduate and undergraduate biology students from Boise University, Idaho were recently in the Seychelles on a course to learn about the uniqueness of our islands biodiversity. They were accompanied by Profs. Marc Bechard and Massimo Pandolfi of Boise and Urbino University respectively. Prof. Pandolfi, who has a long association with Nature Seychelles, has organised similar courses in the past four years.

The course that began on Monday 10 January 2011 and lasted a week, included field activities that saw the students visit Seychelles conservation hotspots of Cousin Island Special Reserve, Curieuse Island Marine Park, Vallee de Mai, La Digue and beaches around Praslin. The visits gave students the opportunity to observe plants and animals and to collect data for assigned field projects.

The training held at our Centre on Praslin brings attention to Seychelles and is also an avenue for future collaboration. Indeed past graduates of the course have returned to the islands to visit as students – at Masters and PHD level, and have also contributed as volunteers on sites like Cousin.

Lectures on the flora and fauna of the Seychelles, its geology, human settlement history, the extinction of endemic species, and current conservation efforts to preserve the biological diversity of the Seychelles were given.

Although heavy rainfall interrupted some of the planned activities, the students were happy they made the trip. In between learning, the students found time to take in local culture.

Nature Watch: A whole series of stories on Seychelles wildlife..

Here is a heads up about some interesting radio programmes we have uploaded on the education pages on our website and which you and those younger ones in your life might find interesting. The radio programmes were broadcast on Radio Seychelles between 1986-1987 (!) and featured Nirmal Shah, Nature Seychelles CEO, explaining the wonders of the Seychelles natural world, from sea cucumbers to earthworms and to Bib Delos – the water striders. Have fun listening, many of the listeners back in those days certainly did.

They are here:

Tell us what you think… is this something you would like to have on the blog?

Meet the Skinks

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