Just two years after their reintroduction as part of a bold conservation strategy, giant tortoises (Aldabrachelys gigantea) have hatched in the wild in Madagascar for the first time in around 600 years. This milestone in rewilding could provide insight into the structure and dynamics of Madagascar’s unique ecosystems, which were shaped by megafauna extirpated centuries ago. For us, some of the conservation biologists involved, it feels like a time-travel bonanza.
Overexploited and driven to extinction in Madagascar after humans arrived on the island 1,500 years or so ago (see B. E. Crowley Quat. Sci. Rev. 29, 2591–2603; 2010), giant tortoises survived because they colonized remote islands in the Seychelles. With the support of the Madagascan government, 12 were released in 2018 into a secure nature reserve. Two hatchlings appeared there in 2019, followed by another 25 in October this year. Now in a nursery, these juveniles will be returned to the wild once their carapaces can protect them from predators.
This type of innovative approach could help stop the catastrophic decline in the island’s biodiversity, particularly in a changing climate (see also B. B. N. Strassburg et al. Nature 586, 724–729; 2020).
Nature 587, 548 (2020)