Visiting the Zoo
Some years ago I had an annual ticket to the zoo, and one of the first animals I encountered on every visit was a giant tortoise.
He was enclosed in a little pen, usually munching away on some lettuce leaves.
When visiting a zoo, the question about the ethics of caging wild animals inevitably comes up yet.
Somehow, it never seemed quite as cruel to lock up a tortoise as it would be a tiger or a similarly vivacious and energetic animal.
After all, the tortoise was slow, old and had its lettuce leaves, what more could it possibly want?
While on vacation, as I was veering around the corner on my electric golf cart on the way to the beach, I had to make a very ungainly stop in order not to run over one of those ancient animals.
Comparing the strength of the tortoise’s shell and its size (they can weigh up to 600 pounds) with the fragility of my little cart.
I could easily work out who would have come off worse, yet that would simply not do on an island were they roam free and are protected.
The Giant Tortoise Island
A herd of more than 400 wild Aldabra giant tortoises inhabit Frégate Island — the most remote of the Seychelles Islands, located in the Indian Ocean.
Along with countless rare turtles, protected birds, geckos, lizards and other animals, the sheer number of multiple-leg species heavily outweighs human visitors to the island.
At its most crowded, there are some 160 people on the 1.15-square-mile (3 km 2) island, which includes 120 staff to a maximum of 40 guests.
The guests, often celebrities or royalty, visit in search of privacy and luxury, and to experience first-hand what it is like to play second fiddle to an animal, any animal.
Frégate Island Private
Frégate Island Private resort is one of those places where nature is nurtured and given the priority it deserves.
A privately owned island, one of 115 that make up the Seychelles, and situated some 1,000 miles off the nearest mainland.
Frégate has been named after the elegant frigate bird which, with its 12-foot wingspan, can often be seen gliding across the speck in the vast Indian Ocean that is Frégate.
Previously frequented by pirates, and later by adventurers who tried to find and retrieve the aforesaid pirates’ treasure, such as Ian Fleming of James Bond fame, Frégate Island is now a treasure in its own right.
The Traditional Style Villa
Sixteen secluded, traditional-style villas overlook the sea. Each 2,000-square-foot dwelling features luxurious facilities, a private sunken whirlpool and a vast, teak-decked sun terrace.
The villas, the main house, staff accommodation and other facilities have been built to blend in with the natural terrain; everything was planned so that nature is always given priority.
In the guest handbook a note reads: “In the restaurants it is openly encouraged that you share your breakfast and content of your breadbasket with the animals.”
And, true enough, in your villa, as soon as the doorbell rings, the birds start assembling on the banisters and outside dining table, expecting to share your room-service order.
Geckos and Lizards
Having to fend off magpie robins, gorgeous red cardinals and cheeky skinks (a small lizard) while trying to eat my breakfast added an interesting note to “getting close to nature.”
Personally, I like geckos and lizards, which is lucky, as those little mosquito-eating machines reside in every corner of the villas, inside and out.
But I somehow doubted that they would necessarily be favored by the spoiled celebrities who frequented this secluded resort.
I had visions of well-groomed and well-heeled ladies scrambling to get away from the plentiful wildlife.
Steve Hill, resident ecologist, had to admit that on a couple of occasions the helicopter had to be called in to evacuate a lady unable to cope with her small co-habitants.
But, on the whole, he believed that the resort’s attitude toward conservation on Frégate actually convinced visitors that the approach was the right one.
“We actively promote that we are a nature reserve, and are against all sorts of pest control on the island, unless it is natural.
Obviously the lizards and geckos are the natural pest control, and keep mosquitoes and flies at bay,” he said.
“We have environmentally aware celebrities choosing to come to Frégate because here they can see nature as it should be.”
Rumors have it that the celebrities who visit include Pierce Brosnan and Paul McCartney, although the discrete staff keep mum about their guests.
Beate Sachse, the second ecologist on the island, is in charge of the tortoises on Frégate.
And not just the tortoises, but everything else with two, four, six or eight legs, except humans, who are extremely well taken care off by the other staff.
Living next to the baby-tortoise enclosure, Beate not only lives and breathe tortoises, but she is also particularly keen on the magpie robin, a blackbird-sized magpie that counts among the rarest birds in the world.
The bird has been the subject of an intensive recovery program since 1990.
In the 1960s, the species had dwindled to only 10 to 50 individuals, all found on Frégate Island. Today around 150 of them exist.
The Amazing Wildlife
To the visitor the birds seem plentiful, but not as abundant as the absolutely beautiful fairy tern, which is snow white with large, dark eyes, and usually ‘terns’ up in twos.
As the birds mate for life, and are often found sitting on low branches chattering with each other.
The most amazing thing about the wildlife on Frégate is that none have natural predators, and they are not afraid of humans coming close. Tortoises can fetch high prices on the black market.
To reduce temptation for local staff, they are awarded a sum of money for each baby tortoise they find in the forest and deliver to Beate’s sanctuary.
Talking about baby tortoises is, of course, a very relative thing, as these animals live to around 200 years of age, and it is difficult to determine the gender of the tortoise until they have matured.
Another very special inhabitant of the island is the Frégate beetle, which is found nowhere else in the world.
It was until recently classified as a spider because of its relatively long legs, although it only has six of them, rather than the eight legs of a spider.
The rare beetle is one of the highlights of the popular nature walk around the island, which lets you see flora and fauna at its best.
You can also see the giant banyan trees with their impressive aerial roots, the adoringly named sandragon trees, cashew-nut trees, as well as cinnamon and vanilla creeper shrubs — all surrounded by breathtaking views over the coast and the ocean.
Being a city girl, I must admit that, in general, countryside delights are not particularly high on my list of must-sees when travelling.
But on Frégate Island I was converted. With nature so abundant and gorgeous, who needs pirate treasure?
If You Go
Seychelles Islands Tourism: