Touring Wildlife by Bicycle on La Digue, Seychelles

La Digue is the laid-back island of the Seychelles. At just over 1,000 hectares and full of postcard beaches around every corner, its possible to travel around the entire island in one day – and the mode of choice is the bicycle. Outside the ferry terminal a young man approaches us, and perhaps unsurprisingly, is related to the person we’re staying with on the island. A few bikes later and we’re on our way around the island. Peak hour traffic in downtown La Digue is when bikes weave past one another in a chaotic scramble. We decide to avoid the tourist-packed beaches and head first for the special reserve created for the endemic Seychelles paradise fly-catcher (Terpsiphone corvina) which survived only on La Digue.

A Seychelles paradise flycatcher recovers in the bushes after fighting (Photo by James Russell)

Its no surprise the fly-catcher survived in this reserve, where the recent rainstorms have flooded the tall natural swamp forest. Even introduced mammals would be hard-pressed in this environment. With luck its not long before a pair of jet black males swoop before us squabbling. Around the corner a brown and white female watches with interest. With less than 250 individuals in the world left of this critically endangered bird species, it shouldn’t have been that easy. Its bewildering that the forest reserve is free to access and unpatronised, while tourists line-up around the corner to pay 100 rupees each to access the most beautiful beach on the island. Instead I donate 100 rupees to the reserve, and hope it might mean a few more dead rats.

 The Seychelles giant millipede

The Seychelles giant millipede can move incredibly fast in the undergrowth with all its feet when it has to (Photo by James Russell)

Across the rest of the island we are bespectacled with an array of other native species. Green geckos stand out clambering around Catholic shrines, dozens of giant millipedes over 30 centimetres long crawl across the forest floor to startle the more intrepid explorer. Sun birds flock to flowering trees creating a cacophony, bulbuls screech from high atop the canopy, and it seems every other person has a giant pet tortoise in their backyard keeping the lawns under control. I try to sit still on the famous Grand Anse beach blending in with the other tourists but don’t last more than a few minutes before I’m off again exploring the forest and trying to find a track to the summit.

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Meet the Author
Conservation biologist Dr. James Russell works throughout the world on remote islands and other sites to provide conservation solutions by applying a combination of scientific methods. Follow James on National Geographic voices for regular updates on his own work or other exciting developments in island conservation.