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At the end of the 19th century, after prolonged and extensive harvesting, indigenous giant tortoises had been eliminated from all islands in the Indian Ocean, except Aldabra atoll, where only a few survived. With greatly reduced levels of exploitation during the 20th century, the population recovered to a revised estimated total of 129,000 in 1973-1974, when the first sample census was conducted. A repeat census in 1997 revealed a highly significant reduction in numbers over the past 24 years to an estimated total of 100,000. The great majority of tortoises are still found at relatively high density in south-eastern Grande Terre, where the number of animals has declined by more than one-third. In contrast, low-density subpopulations on Malabar and Picard have almost doubled in size, but they represent less than 5% of the total population. Corroborative evidence for the crash in the Grande Terre subpopulation comes from two independent observations: a significant increase in tortoise mortality; and a significant decline in tortoise counts on long-term population monitoring transects. These population changes are attributed to natural population regulatory mechanisms, exacerbated by low rainfall years in the period 1980-1997, including two consecutive years of below average rainfall in 1995-1996 and 1996-1997.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Biol Sci

Publication Date





1091 - 1100


Animals, Indian Ocean Islands, Population Density, Turtles