National Geographic : 1959 Nov
-they're all cut!" My sneakers, too, were almost in ribbons. We made slow progress in almost unbearable heat. Suddenly from beneath a large-leafed mapou bush came a loud hiss. I nearly jumped out of my skin. A great wrinkled head peered angrily at me, as if resenting my invasion of a last stronghold of the giant tortoise (page 680). Farther on I spotted about a dozen of them, two and three feet high, dozing beneath bushes. Occasionally one poked its head out from under its shell to take a slow-motion bite from a bright-green mapou leaf, seemingly willing to devote the entire day to chewing it. Aldabra Veteran Lives 180 Years Giant tortoises, of course, are in no hurry. On St. Helena in the South Atlantic I photo graphed a veteran named Jonathan, taken there from Aldabra and said to be about 180 years old.* Despite stories of 500-year longevity, no record lists a giant tortoise more than two centuries old. But these tortoises are quite possibly the animals that live longest of all. I asked the guide how much a grown tor toise might weigh. In reply, he and the three other men tried to hoist a large one above their shoulders. They couldn't do it. Mature specimens, I learned, reach 500 to 600 pounds. For centuries giant tortoises were slaugh tered for food by ships' crews, until at last British scientists persuaded the authorities to 678 proclaim Aldabra a sanctuary for this colony of Testudo elephantina. Revenant visits Aldabra four or five times a year. Between trips the islanders may spear as many as 90 green turtles for shipment alive to Victoria. They are kept in a special enclosure within the lagoon until the schooner arrives (page 682). The last day of our visit was spent loading 90 flapping and protesting turtles. Teen-age boys caught them in the pen for transport by pirogue out to Revenant. The boys pretended great difficulty in roping the reptiles' flippers. By thus prolonging the capture, they enjoyed long turtle-propelled swimming matches. When all our turtles had been hoisted onto the schooner, there was not a square foot of turtleless deck space left. Every time I left my cabin I had to step on slippery upside down turtles. They sighed deeply. Sometimes they shed gummy tears. It was heartbreak ing, but all hands assured me that the turtles didn't really mind-without provocation they sighed just as much. During our 700-mile voyage to Mahe the crew frequently hosed the turtles down with sea water and spread palm leaves over them during the heat of the day. But two died en route. The ship's cook converted them into juicy, greenish steaks that tasted rather like veal, and thick brown soup. At last we saw the steep sides of Mahe to * See "St. Helena: the Forgotten Island," by Quen tin Keynes, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, August, 1950.