The Seychelles broke away from the supercontinent that became Australia, Africa, Asia, and the Americas about 70 million years ago and drifted 1,000 miles (1,609 km) into the isolation that has resulted in their rich and unique animal and plant life today.
Bird populations on this tiny island group in the Indian Ocean can exceed seven million individuals of some 65 breeding species.
Reptiles, here in greater concentration than anyplace else on earth, include more than 150,000 Aldabra giant land tortoises—behemoths that can live more than 100 years, weigh up to 1,100 pounds (500 kg), and have mating calls believed to beloudest sound in the reptile kingdom. Islanders once gave every newborn girl a baby tortoise which was raised until her wedding day, then slaughtered for the nuptial feast. Now these rare creatures have full protection, as do hawksbill and green sea turtles which nest on beaches here from August to April. It is the only place in the world where hawksbill turtles nest during the day, easy for visitors to spot.
Amphibians, absent from most oceanic islands, have 12 species here including the beautiful Seychelles tree frogs, croaking carrycot frogs that carry tadpoles about on their backs, and minuscule pygmy piper frogs, almost impossible to spot but vocal, sometimes dominating all other sounds in higher hills.
At least 250 of some 2,000 plant species are indigenous—here before humans settled in the 1770s—and 80 are endemic, evolved into species found nowhere else. Most famous among them are coco de mer palms whose seeds are largest in the world, weighing up to 44 pounds (20 kg) and famous for being shaped roughly like female sexual apparatus, while their enormous catkins are like males’.
Because the Seychelles drifted off before mammals evolved, both birds and reptiles have thrived—at least before humans arrived—in near-total absence of mammalian predators such as rats and cats. Only mammals occurring naturally are those that flew here—large Seychelles fruit bats (aka flying foxes), squabbling noisily in trees at night, along with Seychelles sheath-tailed bats, thought to be the rarest bat species in the world. Others such as rats and hedgehog-like tenrecs were brought by humans, sometimes with unfortunate results for other species.
Some birds are present all year here, others migrate from northern climes thousands of miles away. Eighteen species are seabirds, feeding on the surface and up to 65 feet (20 m) down in surrounding waters on fish which they regurgitate to feed nestlings.
None is lovelier than little snow-white fairy or white terns, hovering with exquisite grace, laying a single egg precariously on a bare tree branch, taking turns standing carefully over it rather than risk its breaking or tumbling off by sitting on it.
World’s largest colony of frigate or man-of-war birds is here on Aldabra atoll, males soaring like giant black cut-outs against the sky, gular sacs expanded for breeding display into outsize scarlet throat balloons, swooping on other birds to make them regurgitate their catch. Their thievery is at the expense of brown and masked or blue-faced boobies, black and brown noddy terns, and sometimes beautiful long-tailed tropic birds, both white-tailed and the much rarer red-tailed.
Among land birds are enchanting Seychelles black paradise flycatchers hawking after insects on La Digue Island, long streamer tails rippling. In shrubbery on three small islands, Seychelles warblers, once one of the world’s rarest birds—whose confiding ways put them at risk among humans—have been restored to healthy populations, and similar programs are being undertakenfor Seychelles magpie-robins and others by the Ministry of Environment and Nature Seychelles, a private organization.
All are protected on reserves that cover some 163 square miles (420 km2) or 42 percent of these 155 small islands spread out across 154,000 square miles (400,000 km2) of ocean, 987 miles (1,590 km) east of the African mainland and 1,740 miles (2,800 km) west of the Indian subcontinent. Forty-two of these are granitic fragments of the original Gondwanaland; the rest are coral and sand surrounded by reefs with brilliant marine ecosystems, explored by visitors in glass-bottomed boats, snorkeling around shallow rocks, and scuba-diving expeditions by day or night. Major potential threats are habitat destruction through development and urbanization, and continuing introduction of alien species. While the Seychelles are considered a model of conservation, they continue to need international assistance to maintain protection.
Of special note are two U.N. World Heritage Sites—ALDABRA ATOLL and VALLÉE DE MAI.
More about the Reserves in seychelles
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