Changu Island, Zanzibar, Tanzania

8 07 2009

Changu Island, aka Prison Island, is a lovely little coral island off the western coast of the main island in the Zanzibar Archipelago, Zanzibar or locally as Zenji or UngujaChanguu Island was originally built to be a detention centre for disobedient slaves.  Later, in 1893, a prison was built here but instead it was used as a quarantine station for the whole of East Africa.  There is a large population of giant tortoises, a gift from the Seychelles in the 18th century.  The island has a restaurant and small beach for snorkelling and is popular with daytrippers from Stone Town.

In the peak of tourist season there can be 30 or more boats moored just off the beach by the restaurant.  Thankfully during our off-peak visit there was just us and another boat.   A small quiet group.

We had some amazing snorkelling just off the shore of Changuu, and the coral was varied and diverse.  There were beautiful sea stars and urchins as well as various little fish.  Quite pretty.

The main reason for visiting was the tortoises- Giant Aldabra Tortoises.  We got to feed these monsters by hand.  I had never seen a tortoise “run” until then.  They come storming like “a herd of turtles” :)  When I say giant, I mean GIANT.  These guys and gals can weigh up to 250kg and when you’re weighing sandals there’s a definite fear for your toes.  Fingers are also something to worry about with the powerful crushing beaks these guys have.

The Aldabra tortoise is one of the longest-lived animals on earth, if not the longest. No one knows exactly how long these animals are capable of living, but they are believed to easily surpass 100 years. So far, the tortoises studied have outlived the scientists studying them, and proper records have not been maintained.

Here’s a shot of Mrs D and one the bigger guys in the bunch:


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