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Zanzibar > Pictures and travelogues > Prison Island and giant tortoises, Zanzibar

Pictures from Changuu Island (Prison Island) and its giant tortoises, Zanzibar.

Aldabra giant tortoise in Zanzibar
Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) on Changuu Island (Prison Island), Zanzibar.

The Aldabra giant tortoises are among the largest tortoises in the world.
They are endemic to Seychelles. Four of these tortoises were offered as a gift in 1919 by Seychelles to F.B. Pearce, British Resident (= Prime Minister) in Zanzibar. They were moved to Changuu Island a few years later, and their number has increased naturally since then.

These tortoises are herbivorous, although they may also feed on land crabs and even dead turtles.
They reach sexual maturity depending more on their size than age, i.e. when they reach half of their adult size. They are then between 16 and 30. They breed from February to May. The female lays from 9 to 25 eggs, half of which are fertile.

Aldabra tortoises are among the longest-lived animals on the planet: they live an average of 65 to 95 years, some of them beyond 100 years.

Giant tortoises mating in Prison Island, Zanzibar
Aldabra giant tortoises mating in Prison Island, Zanzibar.

Former quarantine hospital in Changuu Island, Zanzibar
Former quarantine hospital, originally designed to serve as a prison, in Changuu Island, Zanzibar.

Several small islands lie off the coast of Stone Town, the capital of Zanzibar. They are
mainly Chapwani Island, Changuu Island, Bawe Island, Murogo Island, Pange Island, and Nyange Island. Further to the South, you find Chumbe Island. Some of them are tourist attractions. Chumbe Island is probably the most beautiful snorkeling site of Zanzibar. It is a private island and a protected nature reserve. Its eco-bungalows can accommodate only 14 guests.

Excepted for Snake Island (which incidentally has no snake), Chapwani Island, also called Grave Island, is the smallest island off Stone Town: it is a private island where you can visit the cemetery of the British Navy where sailors who died in the fight against slave traders or during the first world war are buried.
The island also has a rich fauna and good swimming and snorkeling opportunities. The hotel in the island offers 10 rooms for holidaymakers.

Changuu Island is more known,  yet largely wrongly,  as Prison Island.
The island once belonged to a wealthy slave trader who used it as a slave transit camp. Once prohibited slavery, the island was purchased in 1893 by the British - actually, Zanzibar First Minister Lloyd Mathews - who undertook to build a prison. However, at the time, a cholera epidemic happens  in Egypt and bubonic plague in Bombay. Therefore it was decided to use the island as a quarantine station.
 The new buildings were converted to hospital facilities.

So, Changuu Island has never been used as a prison by the British. Instead, it served as quarantine station mainly for yellow fever cases in East Africa during several decades. It was officially renamed Quarantine Island. Rainwater was the only freshwater available on the island. It was stored in a large underground tank.

Due to monsoon winds, Changuu Island hospital was not always occupied. 
However, the island was also often visited by European settlers who looked for a leisure center outside the hustle and bustle of Stone Town. In 1919, some people came and settle permanently here. In 1931, the hospital was extended  in order to host 900 patients.

However Changuu Island lost its function of quarantine station, the hospital was then  left abandoned and finally the island was acquired in 2002 by the Government that restored some buildings, some of them being converted into restaurants.
The island has a sandy beach. Currently, giant tortoises are the main attraction of the island.

Changuu Island is located a 25-minute boat trip from Stone Town.


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Travel guide and travel directory to Zanzibar with many pictures.