Réunion giant tortoise
|Réunion giant tortoise|
|1792 sketch of a living specimen|
This tortoise was numerous in the 17th and early 18th centuries. They were killed in vast numbers by European sailors, and finally became extinct in the 1840s.
The Réunion giant tortoise was 50 to 110 cm long. It was the largest of the Cylindraspis giant tortoise species of the Mascarenes. It was roughly the same size as modern Aldabra and Galapagos tortoises, though it was a longer and more elongated animal.
It had long legs and a long neck which supported a large head with powerful, strongly-serrated jaws. The species was sexually dimorphic, in that males were noticeably larger than females.
It was also a highly variable species. A problem arises when identifying this species because it appears there were domed variants as well as saddle-backed variants.
These giant tortoises were very slow, curious, and had no fear of man. They were therefore easy prey for the first inhabitants of the island, and were slaughtered in vast numbers - to be burnt for oil, as food for people, and also as food for pigs. Large numbers were also stacked into the holds of passing ships, as food supplies for sea trips.
In addition, invasive introduced species, such as pigs and rats, destroyed the eggs and hatchlings of the tortoises.
Coastal populations were completely decimated by the 18th century. It was presumed extinct in much of the island since 1800 with the last specimen observed in upper Cilaos. The last few animals survived in the highlands until the 1840s.
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