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The Seychelles are a series of islands to the northeast of Madagascar. These beautiful tropical islands are home to abundant natural resources, including diverse examples of plants and animals, some of which are found exclusively on these islands.
Early Observations and Human Encroachment
These large, humid islands went unnoticed by humanity until the late 1700s, at which point the first explorers to its shores made a catalog of all the different types of flora and fauna found there. These observations form the basis of much of our understanding about the types of wildlife that existed on these islands before people began to settle there.
As is unfortunately the case in far too many situations, some of the unique wildlife found in the Seychelles disappeared because of human encroachment. The primary causes were one of two factors: hunting and deforestation. Some species were specifically killed for food and sport to the point of dying out, while others lost their habitat when residents began to clear-cut trees in order to build homes for themselves.
Over the years, various explorers and scientists have gone to the Seychelles and made note of the different types of creatures there. In 1768, Marion Dufresne made an extensive catalog of what he found there, while several scientists returned in the 1800s to study the ecosystems present on the islands. Although biologists today appreciate the unique value of the species found in the Seychelles, the islands have suffered as a result of the callousness of past generations.
Threatened and Extinct Species
Thanks to the efforts of conservationists, including famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, the Seychelles are now thriving, and some species that were on the brink of extinction have been pulled back into safety. These efforts began during the days of British colonialism and have continued in earnest since the Seychelles achieved independence. Organizations such as BirdLife International and the Island Conservation Society have played an integral role in helping species such as the Seychelles warbler to increase in numbers. Those that were lost forever include the Seychelles parakeet, the saltwater crocodile and the Seychelles black terrapin.
Diversity of Birds
When it comes to biodiversity, the Seychelles are fascinating for biologists and in particular ornithologists. Bird lovers flock to these shores because nearly 250 different species of birds have been identified in the Seychelles, 12 of which are endemic, which means they are totally unique to this location. The islands are particularly notable for their thriving colonies of sea birds. What's more, some of the birds found toward the middle of the islands are extremely visually arresting, having unique physical attributes that make them stand out.
Among the birds found in the Seychelles, some of the more unusual ones include the sunbird, the blue pigeon, the Scops owl and frigatebirds. The Aldabra drongo, the Seychelles paradise flycatcher, Seychelles fody and Seychelles swiftlet are also endemic to the islands. Terns, sandpipers and herons are particularly prevalent in the Seychelles, with more than 60 different species falling into these categories. The rare Seychelles black parrot, which is only found on the island of Praslin, is the national bird.
Perhaps the greatest success story correlating to the efforts of conservationists is that of the Seychelles magpie robin and the Seychelles warbler. Both of these species were teetering on the brink of oblivion, but thanks to the diligent efforts of bird lovers, they were restored to a fruitful population. They still are among the rarest birds in the world, but they are no longer classified as being in immediate threat of extinction.
Islands Ideal for Bird-Watching
Among all of the islands in the Seychelles, the one with the most notable bird population is Aride. While there are more than 40 islands in this nation, none of them has as many different types of birds on it as Aride, nor do they have such large populations. In fact, Aride boasts more birds than all those other islands combined, and it also has the world's biggest colonies of the lesser noddy and the Audobon's shearwater.
The aptly named Bird Island is another good destination for those who are fascinated by birds. Sooty terns and fairy terns are found there in abundance, and seven species of birds that have been discovered on Bird Island have yet to be found anywhere else in this system of islands. In addition to the birds that live on the island throughout the year, every May, visitors can observe millions of birds descending upon the island for the purposes of nesting.
Cousin Island is home to both the Seychelles warbler and the Seychelles magpie-robin. The island, which was once ravaged by the coconut industry, now is a nature preserve, and ecotourism has become one of the island's hallmarks. This Important Bird Area boasts seven seabird species whose population numbers more than 300,000 in all.
Tortoises and Turtles
Many of the large tortoises that once populated the islands are now gone. However, some remain, and ever since the 1960s, residents have gotten very involved in making sure that the natural glories of the islands are not wasted but as preserved for future generations. One species that has remained intact is the Aldabra tortoise. In fact, the population of these magnificent tortoises is found in a greater concentration on the Seychelles than in any other place in the world.
The giant tortoises, despite having their population diminished, are perhaps the most notable of the land animals in the Seychelles. These animals can live well over a century and weigh over 500 pounds, and while they thrive on land, they also swim extremely well, making them suited to the landscape of which water plays such a significant part.
Another important species in the Seychelles is the hawksbill sea turtle, which is the only turtle in its genus and, thanks to the fishing industry, is extremely endangered. Cousin Island is the best place to see these sea turtles, since the nesting population there is the largest in the Western Indian Ocean.
Lizards and Amphibians
In addition to tortoises and turtles, these islands are home to geckos, which are interesting because of their huge, lidless eyes and their vibrant skin. They are also the only lizards that make a wide variety of noises. Skinks are also in thriving populations in the Seychelles, and Cousin Island is one of the best places to see these lizards as well.
The Seychelles are home to not only lizards, but amphibians as well, and they boast 12 different types of amphibians that are endemic. Four of the most interesting of these are the Sooglossid frogs, which have only been discovered thus far in the misty mountains of Silhouette and Mahe, which are the two islands in the Seychelles that feature the highest elevation. These tiny frogs may be the smallest in the world, measuring just 9 to 12 mm.
Crabs are another type of animal that can be found in abundance in the Seychelles, with 31 different species of crab, one of which, the coconut crab, is the largest land invertebrate. Many other species of crabs inhabit the waters surrounding the islands. The islands have 20 species of land gastropods, seven of which are endemic to the islands. While one of the most popular pastimes for visitors to these islands is collecting shells, they are encouraged to leave them where they are because of the detrimental effect it has on hermit crabs, which need to change shells periodically and cannot do so if all of the shells are being removed.
It's little wonder that fishing is such a popular industry in this part of the world, since more than 1000 species of fish exist in the Seychelles. Those who go diving, especially among the coral reefs, can find a spectacular array of fish to watch. These creatures are dazzling in their diversity and vibrance. Some of the standout species include parrotfish, angelfish, pufferfish and moray eels. Additionally, the islands are home to the whale shark, which is the biggest fish in the world. Over the years, sharks have been threatened by the fishing industry, but this is beginning to change as conservation efforts continue.
Of course, in addition to all these animals is the plant life that supports them. Indeed, the islands boast 2000 different species of plants. These range from trees, which include varieties of hardwood such as mohogany and rosewood and shade-giving specimens such as the umbrella tree. Several varieties of mangoes can be found in the Seychelles, and the quadrangular fruit of the European spindle is an intriguing sight to behold.
One of the most distinct plants is the Coco de Mer, a type of palm tree that has the largest nut in the world. This nut is known colloquially as the lovenut because of its strong and suggestive resemblance to the female pelvis. Another unusual tree is the jellyfish tree, which has flowers that resemble jellyfish tentacles. For many years, it was considered to be extinct, but more examples of this rare tree have been found in the Seychelles since. With their plentiful forests, the islands of the Seychelles are arboreal wonderlands.
The Seychelles are home to many different types of orchids, including the rare and fragrant vanilla orchid. Other flowering plants include the bois medusa and the pitcher plant, which holds water in a natural reserve. All told, there are 81 species of plants that are found only in the Seychelles, many of them quite beautiful. The abundance of exotic flowers, including mignonette flowers, pappus, hibiscus, bougainvillea and frangipani trees, increases the islands' appeal as a wedding and honeymoon destination.
With its huge assortment of wildlife, both plants and animals, the Seychelles provide a great example of the beauties of nature and make a natural destination for tourists who want to experience the wilderness up close.