The rise and fall of the Aldabran giant tortoise population.
Bourn D., Gibson C., Augeri D., Wilson CJ., Church J., Hay SI.
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.