Giant tortoises must have been small once, though it’s hard to believe from their solid meter-length carcass housing that great plodding body, tree trunk legs and wide-wrinkly neck. Truth is they’re a probable 70-150 years old at this size. Crouching until my knees ached I just watched and took the opportunity to get up close to these slow, steady and entertaining creatures who are lucky enough to wonder free on the Seychelles islands.
They’re definitely not in a rush for anything but they know what they want. Often solitary, grazing contently on grass they break the monotony by moving just a footstep away - slowly lifting one leg then the other and turning their incredible head, neck and body to follow it round. In twos they might try a spot of head nuzzling, take on some water refreshment or just wallow in the shade. Hard life.
Deep grunts and sighs indicate, for me, some deep rooted personality in these ancestors of the tropics. These sounds echo around the small island communities and become much more rampant in breeding season – think ‘e-oring’ donkey in pain! Although it looks tough and weathered their shell is actually rather sensitive between the patterned tiles until the tortoise has grown to full size; from the tiny 6 month old I am holding here on Cousin island you can only imagine how long this growth spurt takes.
Wrinkled at birth, wrinkled in their prime – there’s something jurassic yet delicate about these giants.