Learn to love again

Learn to love again

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Seychelles Giant tortoises are a reminder of how wonderful nature can be

By Cameron Dueck

We spend a lot of time speaking about how the earth is being ruined. But how about those weird and wonderful parts of nature that have remained unchanged for hundreds of years, despite climate change and pollution?

Sometimes we need a reminder of just how cool nature can be. I often realise this while I am at sea, on a sailing boat hundreds of miles from shore. Sometimes I see whales, dolphins or sea birds, and I fall in love with nature all over again.

In 2004, I sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, from South Africa to Brazil. Along the way we stopped in St Helena, a tiny island in the middle of the South Atlantic. St Helena is a British colony, like Hong Kong used to be. It has no airport and its nearest neighbour is 700 nautical miles away. It's in the middle of nowhere.

While we were on the island we met Jonathan. He is a 176-year-old tortoise, which makes him one of the world's oldest living animals. He lives on the governor's front lawn with his tortoise buddies: David, Speedy, Emma, Fredricka and Myrtle.

Jonathan is a Seychelles giant tortoise, which are nearly extinct because sailors used to stop at the Seychelles, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean, and kill the tortoises for food. The tortoises were seen as a type of takeaway food because they could survive aboard ships for up to six months without food and water.

Jonathan is a giant. When he stands up, he is about a metre high, and he moves with slow, heavy steps. He's a dusty grey-green in colour. Jonathan has seen a lot in his life. When he was born, there were no cars or radios. Plastic hadn't even been invented.

He arrived on the island by ship from the Seychelles in 1882, when he was already about 50 years old. But old age doesn't stop Jonathan. He's blind in one eye and his shell has become battered, yet he still a lot of energy. He interacts with the other tortoises, lies in the sun and eats grass. Boats drop anchor in the bay and tourists come to look at Jonathan and then leave again. But he remains.

Jonathan was around long before humans began to understand how our actions hurt the earth. He's an example of just how wonderful nature can be. Jonathan is a good reminder of what we're trying to protect.

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