This post is about out trip to Prison Island where we saw the biggest and oldest tortoises ever.
Changuu Island (also known as Prison Island) is a small island 5.6 km north-west of Stone Town, Zanzibar. The island is around 800 m long and 230 m wide.The island was used as a prison for rebellious slaves in 1860s. The British First Minister of Zanzibar, Lloyd Matwes, purchased the island from its Arab owners on behalf of the Zanzibar government in 1893 and constructed a prison complex there. The prison was to have housed violent and recidivist criminals from the part of the African mainland which was then under the jurisdiction of Zanzibar.
However no prisoners were ever housed on the island and instead it became a quarantine station for yellow fever cases. Quarantine cases would be taken from the ships and monitored on the island for between one and two weeks before being allowed to progress with their journey. Ships typically only arrived in East Africa during the period running from December to March and so the island was usually empty of quarantine cases for a large part of the year. During the empty period the island became a popular leisure resort for European people and local residents of Zanzibar.
Now it is a popular tourist spot for the half-day excursions from all over Zanzibar. Mostly people are eager to see tortoises on the Prison Island. In 1919 the British governor of Seychelles sent a gift of four Aldabra Giant Tortoises to Prison Island from the Aldabra. These tortoises bred quickly and now there much more of them. They are both huge and very old. The oldest tortoise on the island is 198 years old. Unfortunately we have not seen it, but we spotted one of 155 years old.
Visitors are able to observe, touch and feed the tortoises. The entrance fee is 4$. The price of the whole half-day excursion to Prison Island with snorkeling around the island is about 13-20$.