Sheltered Life: The Unexpected History of the Giant Tortoise

Overview

For millennia the mighty giant tortoises lived in isolation on remote oceanic islands such as the Galapagos, Seychelles and Mauritius. Then in the sixteenth century sailors discovered that they were good to eat, and their strategic location led to a wholesale plunder of their population by passing ships.
Later, many Victorian scientists became fascinated with these creatures, directly inspiring the first understanding of ecology and biogeography and Darwin's theory of natural ...

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Overview

For millennia the mighty giant tortoises lived in isolation on remote oceanic islands such as the Galapagos, Seychelles and Mauritius. Then in the sixteenth century sailors discovered that they were good to eat, and their strategic location led to a wholesale plunder of their population by passing ships.
Later, many Victorian scientists became fascinated with these creatures, directly inspiring the first understanding of ecology and biogeography and Darwin's theory of natural selection. The giant tortoise was also the subject of the world's first conservation fight in the 1870s. Indeed many people's lives have been touched by these gentle giants. The French were happy to surrender the island of Mauritius in 1810, but baulked at handing over their mascot tortoise, and the British and American governments were forced to concede the tortoises in a major Cold War incident. The twentieth century saw the establishment of wildlife reserves in the Galapagos and elsewhere, but it has been too late for many species. However, modern genetics has been able to track down members of what were once believed to be extinct populations.
A Sheltered Life is a fascinating look at one of the world's strangest and most wondrous animals—whose significance in modern science and culture cannot be underestimated.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This story follows the discovery and study of giant tortoises on the Gal pagos and Mascarene islands by scientists (including Charles Darwin) over the last 200 years. "Sheltered Life" refers to the relatively inhospitable and remote island geography that served to protect tortoise populations from humans and their destructive nature. Nonetheless, because they were considered a delicacy by passing mariners, tortoises became extinct on almost all Indian Ocean islands by the mid-19th century. Chambers (research fellow, Ctr. for Civil Society Studies, Univ. of Glamorgan, Wales) has previously written on a wide range of scientific subjects but here deals more with the history of the sailors, scientists, and explorers who visited these islands while whaling, colonizing, or just plain wandering. Other topics include conservation efforts and the history of one 175-year-old tortoise at a modern Australian zoo. While including references to esoteric Zoological Society of London correspondence, ship logs, and other sources, this thoroughly researched work is also an accessible read for anyone interested in the history of zoology and its expeditions. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.-Alvin Hutchinson, Smithsonian National Zoological Park Lib., Washington, DC Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195223965
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/9/2005
  • Pages: 324
  • Product dimensions: 8.60 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

Pt. 1 Discovery
A sheltered life 3
The worthless islands 8
Here be giants 15
Pt. 2 Inspiration
Just one species? 25
A tortoise for each island 32
Revelation 45
Ironies 72
Pt. 3 Decimation
The Indian Ocean tortoises 79
The safe haven 85
The arrival of the whaling fleet 93
Settlers 106
Pt. 4 Obsession
La Mare aux Songes 115
A champion for the tortoises 118
Understanding the tortoises 135
Save the tortoises! 144
The final showdown 149
Galapagos or bust 154
The errant playboy 168
Pt. 5 Pets
The well-travelled tortoises 175
Darwin's missing tortoise 177
Digging into Harriet's past 187
The fate of the Beagle tortoises 199
Marion's tortoise 206
Pt. 6 Recovery
In the name of science 213
Aldabra's legacy 227
The Charles Darwin foundation 240
Pt. 7 In the blood
Lumpers and splitters 251
The tortoises' origins 262
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