HOTSPOT: Madagascar and Indian Ocean Islands
Volunteering on Cousin Island with Nature Seychelles
When you read explorer’s accounts of their first arrival in an uninhabited, pristine landscape; their descriptions speak of a surreal abundance. They speak of literally tripping over dense animal life on the ground, of creatures so tame and unaccustomed to humanity that they don’t scatter at the mere sight of Homo sapiens. Arriving on Cousin Island gave me a small taste of what it might have been like to be an explorer in such a privileged position.
The island volunteers came down to pull in my boat and greet me. Joining the human welcoming party clustered along the coastline were dense groups of hermit crabs, ghost crabs, pigeons, fodies, and moorhens; as well as several giant land tortoises. The other volunteers introduced me George, the oldest tortoise on the island at over 150 years of age. George is such a friendly beast: he loves having his neck patted. Upon initiation of a petting session he will stand up high on his trunk-like legs and stretch out his neck so you can access as much of his skin as possible. If you are close to him, but don’t initiate petting, he will walk directly over to you and wait expectantly.
I will be on Cousin and enjoying its incredible wildlife for the next month. Volunteering with Nature Seychelles, I will get to help gather data for wildlife monitoring studies, participate in continued environmental recovery operations, and assist with the daily tourist visits to the island. Seychelles conservationists have a lucky force on their side: the Seychelles is a massive draw for tourists. The 50-odd people who visit Cousin Monday to Friday essentially fund Cousin’s conservation activities with their visit. It’s nice to round up my Keegan Traveling Fellowship year with an NGO that has less trouble securing funding for the projects it wishes to undertake!