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Madagascar, Mauritius and the other East-African Islands,,
    1906 by Conrad Keller, p. 209-216:


    Between the Seychelles and the Comoro Isles lies a small group of islands consisting of the Aldabra Isles (9° 22' S. lat. and 46° 14' E. long.) and the neighbouring islands of Assumption, Cosmoledo and Astow.

    These islands were doubtless known long ago to the Arab mariners, and were seen by the Portuguese on their voyages. The chief island, Aldabra, was mentioned as early as 1511 under the name Ilhadara, and a little later it was designated as Adarno and then as Albadara. In the year 1742 Aldabra became better known by the voyage of Lazare Picault and Jean Grossen to the Seychelles, and in 1878 Wharton prepared a map; more detailed maps were got up later by Dr. Abott, an American, and Dr. A. Voltzkow [Alfred Voeltzkow, 1860–1947, zoologist], a German, the latter of whom sailed from North Madagascar to Aldabra for the purpose of investigating its Natural History.

    Aldabra, according to the description of the last named very trustworthy investigator, is an oval atoll with a major diameter of 19 miles and a maximum breadth of 71 miles. It has three small entrances, the largest of which, that on the north side, is only half a mile wide. The lagoon is shallow and is partly dry at low tide. The belt of land projects from 3 to 6 ft. above the limit of high tide and is steep towards the sea; its breadth varies from half a mile to 3 miles.

    The geological structure everywhere shews us only recent coral. Whether the underlying rocks are volcanic or composed of primitive rock, cannot be determined owing to the fact that these rocks do not come to the surface. Possibly we have to do with a pinnacle approaching the surface with an atoll resting upon it. The island seems to have been originally a flat reef, gradually worn and washed away in the middle during a slow upheaval. Voltzkow remarks that numerous islets of mushroom shape occur in the interior of the atoll. I look upon these as secondary formations...

    There are two good-sized islets in the interior of the lagoon: the long Euphrates Island [Île Esprit], which is 3 miles distant from the inner edge of the belt, and Cocoa-Nut Island [Île Michel] in the east of the lagoon, which, as its name indicates, is covered with cocoa-nut palms.

    There are no brooks or rivers, so that it is necessary for the settlers to collect during the rainy season sufficient water for their needs and to store it in reservoirs. On the south-eastern side is formed a water-hole which never dries up, containing slightly brackish, impure water; it is only 6 ft. broad and 4½ ft. deep.

    Aldabra, lying within reach of the trade winds, has a pleasant climate. The temperature rises in April and May to 82° and 84° F., but cools down at night to 77° and 79° F. The rainy season, according to Dr. Abott, begins in December and lasts till May. The dry season commences at the beginning of July.

    We have quite lately obtained important particulars as to the flora and fauna. The details collected by Prof. Hans Schinz furnishes a list of 71 species, of which 60 are peculiar to the island. The sand-dunes are overgrown with casuarinas {C. equisetifolia). The creeping Ipomoea pescaprae grows exuberantly on the sea-shore; scattered thickets of borage {Tournefortia argentea [Heliotropium_foertherianum]), with fleshy leaves, are among the characteristic forms on the sand-hills. Mangroves only occur on the eastern side, where they are so dense as to make it difficult to land.

    A dense bush begins in the neighbourhood of the shores, which gives place here and there to park scenery; the height of this underwood varies, sometimes being as much as from 16 to 20 ft. Among the characteristic forms of this underwood there are Ficus nautarum [= Ficus lutea], conspicuous by its close foliage, and Ficus aldabrensis; then Grevia salicifolia [Grewia salicifolia], reminding us of our willows, as well as species of spurge some six feet high {Euphorbia Abotti). Among screw-palms only one species has as yet been observed, apparently Pandanus Vandermeeschii. The occurrence of Moringa pterygosperma is peculiar. It is a cultivated plant in the tropics and has apparently been imported unintentionally. The flora, according to Schinz, is closely connected with that of the Mascarene Isles, but has received in addition numerous types from Madagascar and East Africa.

    The animal world allows us to recognize the original strongly endemic character of an oceanic island with as yet but little adulteration Human desire for gain has not hitherto succeeded in destroying the originality of this secluded corner. The lower animals seem to be weakly represented, and point to an immigration from Madagascar or Africa. Among the grasshoppers, Phaneroptera nana is the most common; among the praying locusts, there are found Mantis prasina and Hierodula Volzkowiana. Mosquitoes are a regular plague and make residence in the bush almost impossible. Land crabs {Birgus sp. [coconut crab, robber crab, terrestrial hermit crab]) are represented by two varieties differing in colour.

    Of higher animals, the almost entire absence of mammals is noteworthy; there is only a single small bat and possibly also a flying fox {Pteropus). Rats and mice have been introduced and do great damage to the maize plantations.

    The feathered tribes are uncommonly rich in individuals, but not in species, as only 27 have hitherto been mentioned.

    Many oceanic birds find Aldabra a secure resting-place. The feathered creatures seem here for the most part to have entirely laid aside their fear of man, their familiarity is so great that sometimes they let themselves be taken by hand, or they come innocently into the huts. A small turtle dove {Turtur aldabranus) may be indicated as the characteristic bird of the island, being met with at every step; Corvus scapulatus has already come here, but only a few specimens are to be seen. A small goatsucker {Caprimulgus aldabrensis) moves silently through the air in the twilight.
    The strand is animated with stone curlews, sandpipers [Scolopacidae], herons [Ardeidae] and terns [Sternidae]. Gannets {Sula piscatrix) and frigate-birds [Fregatidae] have their sleeping-places here, but at daybreak they take their long flights over the sea.

    Reptiles are represented by two small species of gecko and a small sand lizard {Ablepharus boutoni); chameleons seem to be entirely wanting, as also are snakes, but, on the other hand, the island forms a place of refuge for turtles and gigantic tortoises. The former are so numerous that in 1847 a trader asserted that he could supply 12,000 in the year. They are conveyed for the most part to the Seychelles, as has been already mentioned.

    Tortoises are still found in great numbers. In 1847 the crews of two ships were able to catch 1200 of them in a short time, among them being giants weighing 8 cwt. each. Even now they may be counted in thousands, but are for the most part only visible in sandy places at the time of laying their eggs, whereas for the rest of the time they retire into the bush, living principally on the fruit of the screw-palm.
    We know of four different species of giant tortoises belonging to Aldabra, viz., Testudo elephantina, T. gigantea, T. hololissa, and T. Daudini [the Aldabra giant tortise—average males weigh 250 kilograms—was later referred to as Geochelone gigantea and more recently has been called Dipsochelys dussumieri]. According to the tortoise catchers, there are such mighty specimens living in the bush that it is quite impossible to transport them. As these animals propagate quickly an early extermination is only to be looked for if the bush should at any time be destroyed.

    The island is only inhabited at the present time by some twenty persons. These are blacks who have immigrated from the Seychelles and have founded a small settlement of ten houses. They are in the service of a contractor and grow maize, batatas, tobacco and vegetables to some extent, but their chief business is catching turtles and tortoises.

    The numerous turtles (Chelone viridis [green turtle, now known as Chelonia mydas]) are either caught where they come to shore, or harpooned in the shallower parts of the sea. The rowing boats used for taking them are lightly built, and flat-bottomed so as not to run aground. When the animals are hit they swim away as quickly as possible, dragging the boat after them; at last they get tired and are taken on board. They are either conveyed to the Seychelles alive, or they are killed, their flesh being then cut into strips and dried in the sun.

    The fat of the turtle forms a very important article of trade. It is packed in iron vessels holding 11 gallons and exported to France, where it enjoys a certain demand for medicinal purposes. The lung, when dried, is esteemed as an ingredient for soup. Another business is fishing for holothurias, these sluggish sea-cucumbers occurring many together on the reefs as well as in the shallow lagoons.

    The cocoa-nut palm has been introduced at several points of the island, and may perhaps yield a good return in the future.

    The favourable conditions of existence might well support an increased population, as the people would find plenty of subsistence in the abundance of fresh turtle meat and turtle eggs. Moreover, the sea appears to be rich in fish.

    The only disadvantages are the imperfect communication with the neighbouring colonies, and the great distance from them; the Seychelles, for example, with which there is at present most intercourse, lying at a distance of 550 nautical miles. Steamers are not in the habit of calling at Aldabra, but a schooner comes from the Seychelles two or three times a year. It is most quickly reached by means of the well-built sailing ships from North Madagascar, to which the current from East Madagascar renders assistance. Landing is somewhat difficult, owing to the roughness of the surrounding sea.

    Aldabra and the neighbouring low coral islands, Cosmoledo, Assumption and Astow, are in the possession of England, and are under the government of the Seychelles. At present an English factor has taken these islands into profitable management, paying for each of them a monthly rent of five dollars.
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    Victoria, Mahé Island - Aldabra Atoll

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    Republic of Seychelles: A lengthy struggle between France and Great Britain for the islands ended in 1814, when they were ceded to the latter. Independence came in 1976. Socialist rule was brought to a close with a new constitution and free elections in 1993.

    President France-Albert RENE, who had served since 1977, was re-elected in 2001, but stepped down in 2004. Vice President James MICHEL took over the presidency and in July 2006 was elected to a new five-year term.
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Area of Seychelles: 455 sq km
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The New York Times, January 28, 1906, p. SM7:

Most Famous of All Palms, the Coco de Mer

Splendid Specimen of This Plant,
Which Bears the Biggest Nut in the World,
Grown from a Seedling in Our Botanical Garden—
A Subject of Fantastic Legend.

    In the magnificent palm palace of the New York Botanical Garden, Bronx Park, a specimen of the most famous of all palms, and one of the rarest in cultivation, has just been placed for public admiration after three years in the propagating house, where it arrived as a seedling. This is the double cocoanut, the coco de mer, the coco de Salomon, the coco des Maldives of the French, the coco Maldivicus of Rumphius, the nux medica of Clusius, the Sechellarium of Labillardière, technically known to botanists nowadays as Lodoicea maldivica.
    This palm has been the subject of more mystery and more fantastic legends than perhaps any other tree that grows. It is a native of the Seychelles Islands, on the northeast coast of Madagascar, the paradise where the great feather variety and others of the most beautiful palms had their origin, and even here it is found on only three isles of the group, Praslin, Curieuse, and Round Islands, which are within half a mile of each other [the coco de mer has since become extinct on Round Island].

    It attains a height of 80 or 90 feet, and is surrounded by a beautiful crown of winged and palmated leaves. The diameter of the trunk varies from 12 to 15 inches, and the whole is so flexible that it sways in a strong breeze. The leaves attain a length of 20 feet, and even 30 feet, with a breadth of 10 or 12 feet, and open like a fan. The fruit is the largest which any tree produces. It frequently is 18 inches in length, with a circumference of 3 feet, and sometimes weighs 40 or 50 pounds. A remarkable circumstance connected with the tree is the length of time necessary to mature its fruit and the long duration of the bloom. It bears only one spadix in each year, and yet has often as many as a dozen in bloom at once. It has flowers and fruit of all ages at one time.

+     +     +

    Until the year 1743, when they were seen on the trees in the only spot where they grow, the nuts were known solely from having been found floating in the Indian Ocean off the Maldive Islands. They were found in no other place in the world. The reason was that the trees grew on the shores of the Seychelles, and large quantities of the great fruit, falling into the water, were borne to the Maldives by currents, the direction of which in those parts is east-northeast.
    The nuts were always found minus the husk and mostly with the internal part decayed. They were called "Calappa Laut" by the Dutch, and under that appelation Rumphius has given a historical account of them. The double cocoanut, he says, is not a terrestrial production, which may have fallen by accident into the sea and there became petrified, but a fruit probably growing itself in the sea, whose fruit hitherto has been concealed from the eye of man.
    The Malay and Chinese sailors used to affirm that it was borne upon a tree deep under water, which was similar to a cocoanut tree, and was visible in placid bays upon the coast of Sumatra, &c., but that if they sought to dive after it the tree instantly disappeared.
    The negro priests declared it grew near the island of Java, where its leaves and branches rose above the water, and formed the habitation of a monstrous bird or griffin. This griffin was accustomed to sally forth nightly and tear to pieces with its beak such insignificant game as elephants, rhinocerouses, and tigers, and carry off the flesh to its nest to feed on at leisure. Moreover, ships were attracted by the waves which surrounded the tree and were unable to sail out of the fatal zone, so that the hapless sailors fell and easy prey to the voracious bird. Needless to say that the inhabitants of the Indian Archipelago in their travels about the ocean were careful to give the spot the widest possible berth.

    It is no matter for wonder, under the circumstances, that the nut should have been highly prized. In the Maldivian Islands it was death to any man to possess it. All nuts that were found became the immediate property of the King, who sold them at a very high price offered them as the most precious regal gifts. Their value was estimated at from 60 to 120 crowns; but those which measured as much in breadth as in length were the most esteemed, and those which attained a foot in diameter fetched as high as 150 crowns. In fact, some Kings were reputed to have given a loaded ship for a single nut.

+     +     +

    Dr. Berthold Seemann [1825-1871, German botanist], in his history of palms [Popular History of the Palms and Their Allies, 1856], tells us that the Chinese as well as the natives of the archipelago considered the nuts of the coco de mer an antidote to all poisons. The principal virtue resided in the albumen which lines the nut, and which is so hard as to be preserved for a length of time after the embryo has been destroyed. This substance was ground to powder, placed in vessels of porphyry with powdered black and white or red coral, ebony, and stags' horns, the whole was mixed with water, and thus formed the drink which was to counteract the poisons. The double cocoanut was also thought servicable in all inflammations of the body, as a preservative against colic, apoplexy, epilepsy, paralysis, &c.
    Of the shell, which possessed fewer medicinal properties, the great men made precious vessels, the lid of which was formed by cutting off the top transversly. In these vessels, which were carved and ornamented with rare gems, they put their tobacco, betel, lime, and whatever else they masticated, believing that then these items could never be contaminated with anything noxious. Water kept in them was supposed to preserve from every complaint those who drank of it.

    Nowadays the crown of the trunk—that is, the heart of the leaves—is eaten like that of the American cabbage palm, and often preserved in vinegar; but it is less delicate and slightly bitter. The trunk itself, after being split and cleared of its soft and fibrous internal parts, serves to make water troughs as well as palisades for surrounding houses and gardens.
    The foliage is employed to thatch the roofs of houses and sheds, and even for walls. With a hundred leaves a commodious dwelling may be constructed, including the partitions of the apartments, the doors and windows.
    The down attached to the young leaves serves for filling mattresses and pillows. The ribs of the leaves and fibres of the petiole are used for making baskets and brooms, while the young foliage furnishes an excellent material for hats.

    Of the nut, vessels of different forms and for various uses are made. When preserved whole and perforated in one or two places the shells serve to carry water. Some of them hold from six to eight pints, and generally are carried suspended to sticks, one on each end. If divided in two between the lobes, each portion serves, according to its size and shape, for plates or dishes or drinking cups.
    In European countries the shell has been utilized for making shaving dishes and similar articles. It is black and polishes beautifully, and generally is carved and set in silver.

+     +     +

    For many years attempts to introduce the coco de mer in the conservatories of European botanical gardens failed miserably. Such was the eagerness to make experiments in rearing it that germinating nuts were disposed of at public sale in London for £10 apiece. There are some fine examples now both at Kew and Hanover.
    The New York specimen was germinated by William Falconer at the Schenley Park conservatories at Pittsburgh, and in the propogating house at the Bronx has been the object of the indefatigable solicitude of Mr. Nash, the head gardener. At the present time it is about four feet in height, has a couple of leaves, and just enough of a nut to show its character.

    The original home of the coco de mer, the Seychelles, is a veritable Garden of Eden, as may be judged by the following enthusiastic description given by R. W. Plant, the African explorer:
    "In the Seychelles I more nearly realized my preconceived ideas about tropical vegetation than at any other place—the beach fringed with common cocoanuts; the ravines and water courses overhung with bananas, bamboos, and three or four indigenous palms; the open ground full of pineapples—miles of them, run wild; the tops of the mountains covered with forests of ebony and rosewood, interspersed with tree ferns of some twenty or thirty feet high, and then these glorious Lodoiceae, with their leaves of fifteen or twenty feet span and trunks reaching to the sky, to say nothing of groves of cinnamon and cloves and breadfruit, all new to me in this their natural wildness and beauty."

    The Seychelles were discovered by the Portuguese in 1505, occupied by the French in 1743, seized by the British in 1794, and formally ceded to them by France in 1814. The capital, Victoria, is situated on Mahé Island, and is used as a naval coaling station.

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