The Seychelles islands are host to some of the most amazing wildlife. Historically, the flora and fauna of the archipelago suffered losses at the hands of the first human settlers and explorers in the eighteenth century – coastal and mid-level forests were felled, the majority of giant tortoises disappeared, and some species such as parakeet and black terrapin even dwindled as far as extinction. However, over time the islands recovered – and today the Seychelles is truly a haven for tortoises, birds, and a host of marine life, with an impressive number of conservation programmes!
Aldabra giant tortoise
One of the success stories is that of the Aldabra giant tortoise. The species has made a remarkable comeback following kills and removals until as late as 1840. It was on the brink of extinction when scientists including Charles Darwin intervened, appealing for the tortoises to be conserved. Today the charming creatures inhabit many of the islands, some even in captive herds! With their splendid shells, stocky legs and amiable expressions, they are a joy to observe – and many islands offer opportunities for visitors to learn about ongoing efforts to preserve the gentle giants.
Another rescue tale is that of the Seychelles magpie robin. The destruction of woodlands, together with the introduction of cats and rats to the archipelago, almost brought about this spectacular songbird’s demise. In 1970, only 16 individuals existed, all on Fregate Island. Thankfully the conservation work of BirdLife International boosted the count – and by 2012 the shiny songsters, with their black coats and distinctive white-striped wings, had found additional habitats on Cousin, Cousine, Aride and Denis islands, their status downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The Seychelles is also home to some of the world’s largest seabird colonies! Bird Island alone boasts some 700,000 sooty terns, as well as plentiful fairy terns, white-tailed tropicbirds and common noddies. There are also 12 endemic species, including the Aldabra drongo, Seychelles scops-owl, Seychelles bulbul and, of course, the magpie robin! Numerous seabird sanctuaries are committed to ensuring the conservation of these and other birds across the archipelago.
Finally, the marine life of the Seychelles is nothing short of sensational! The atoll of Aldabra, home of large populations of tortoise, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while many other islands are surrounded by coral reefs rich in underwater lifeforms. Over a thousand fish species are known to thrive here! Semi-terrestrial and terrestrial crabs are also in residence, such as five species of hermit. The coconut crab is well worth watching out for – at up to one metre from leg to leg, this is the largest arthropod in the world! And the amphibian species include six species of frog, six caecilians, twenty types of lizard and three land snakes.