One of the premises for considering the name Testudo dussumieri as appropriate for the Aldabra tortoise is that Gray’s (1831, p. 9) brief diagnosis refers to a specimen in the Leiden Museum, allegedly collected by ‘M. Dussumiere’ on ‘Insula Aldebra’. Hubrecht (1881, p. 44) reported a ‘young specimen’ in the spirit collections of this museum, stating: ‘The locality from whence the specimen was brought is sharply fixed. Dussumier himself on his travels in the tropics collected it in the island of Aldabra . . .’. Recently, Bour (2006, p. 21) designated this specimen (RMNH 3231) as the lectotype of T. dussumieri. However, there is no evidence that Dussumier ever visited Aldabra, or that the lectotype is from this atoll.
Neither Dussumier himself, in his own published accounts of his collecting (e.g. correspondence in Mémoires du Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle of 1827, volume 15, pages 377–384), nor others who have reported on his travels (reviews by Arvy (1972) and Laissus (1973)) ever mention Aldabra as one of the localities visited by him. Dussumier was an obsessive if not compulsive fish collector, but none of his specimens (many referred to in Cuvier and Valencienne’s 1828–1848 Histoire des Poissons) are known to have been collected in the waters of Aldabra. A study of the labels of Dussumier’s fish specimens in the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (MNHN) in Paris found no mention of Aldabra as a collection locality (Philippe Keith, MNHN, personal communication). Finally, the atoll is never mentioned in any of Dussumier’s manuscript notebooks or papers in the archives of the MNHN in Paris (personal observation).
On the other hand, it is known that Dussumier called at the granitic islands of Seychelles, including Mahé. Mahé is mentioned specifically on the labels of some of his fish specimens in the MNHN, e.g. Scomberoides tala (Cuvier, 1832), Etelis carbunculus Cuvier, 1828, Parupeneus rubescens (Lacepède, 1801) and Upeneus sulphureus Cuvier, 1829. Moreover, he collected birds, reptiles and amphibians known to occur only in the granitic islands of Seychelles, and unknown from low lying, coralline outer islands like Aldabra Atoll, e.g. a chameleon, a snake and a tree frog mentioned in his letter published 1827 (referred to above), the dove Streptopelia picturata rostrata (Bonaparte, 1855) (label quoted by Voisin et al., 2005) and the sunbird Nectarinia (Cinnyris) dussumieri Hartlaub, 1860 (Oustalet (1878)). The young tortoise mentioned by Duméril & Bibron (1835, p. 114: ‘Nous soupçonnons appartenir à la Tortue Éléphantine, une très jeune Chersite de treize centimètres de longueur, qui a été rapportée des îles Séchelles et donnée au Muséum d’histoire naturelle par M. Dussumier.’) – apparently the same specimen that was later mentioned by Hubrecht (1881) – must also have been collected in the granitic islands of Seychelles, not Aldabra, one of the islands in the Mozambique Channel area that Duméril & Bibron (1835) listed under the distribution of T. elephantina. At the time of Dussumier’s travels ‘Seychelles’ did not officially include Aldabra, which is more than 1000 km to the southwest of Mahé. Aldabra’s administrative status was unclear well into the second half of the 19th century, with both the British (who had already taken over the granitic Seychelles) and the French still eyeing the atoll. It was only in 1879 that the British Board of Civil Commissioners petitioned for additional islands, including Aldabra, to form part of Seychelles, politically speaking. It was not until 1892 – nine years after Dussumier’s death – that a British ship was sent to confirm formal possession of Aldabra and its inclusion in the dependency of Seychelles (McAteer, 2000, pp. 176–178).
Moreover, the manner in which Gray allegedly obtained at least some specimens collected by Dussumier creates doubt as to the correctness or completeness of the collecting data he received with the specimens. The mollusc expert Geoffrey Nevill, in a letter dated 5th March 1883 to the Azorean naturalist Francisco Arruda Furtado, discussing the slug Mariaella dussumieri Gray, 1855, (from a French collection purchased in London according to Gray) reported: ‘. . . there was a great row – the French party said Gray was tempting men to steal and sell him their specimens – all Dussumier’s coll[ection] belonged to Jardin des Plantes. Gray retorted and said it was not his fault, if the officers of the Paris Museum sold their specimens on the sly . . .’ (Arruda, 2002). Discussing the same slug, Humbert (1862) pointedly described as ‘singulier’ (i.e. strange) that Dussumier’s specimens from Mahé in the MNHN had made their way to London and been sold to the British Museum. Mariaella dussumieri, said by Gray (1855) to have been collected by Dussumier on ‘Mahi near Sechelles’, is now not included in the molluscan fauna of Seychelles by Gerlach (2006).
In any case, it would be very atypical of Dussumier, an ‘infatigable collecteur’ (Cuvier, 1831), to collect only a young tortoise and no other specimen from Aldabra, when one considers the wealth of animal life, birds especially, encountered later by (e.g.) Abbott (1894). To conclude, there is no evidence that Dussumier ever landed on Aldabra and, therefore, no evidence that the Leiden Museum specimen designated by Bour (2006) as the lectotype of T. dussumieri was collected on Aldabra Atoll. Hence, adopting the actions petitioned in Case 3463 is the simplest, least disruptive way to bring lasting nomenclatural stability to the Aldabra tortoise, and comply fully with the spirit of the Code.
Abbott, W.L. 1894. Notes on the natural history of Aldabra, Assumption and Glorioso Islands, Indian Ocean. Proceedings of the United States National Museum, 16: 759–764.
Arruda, L.M. 2002. Correspondência científica de Francisco Arruda Furtado. 788 pp. Instituto Cultural de Ponta Delgada.
Arvy, L. 1972. Jean-Jacques Dussumier, master mariner and cetologist (1792–1883). Investigations on Cetacea, 4: 263–269, pls. 1–5.
Cuvier, G. 1831. Rapport fait à l’Académie des Sciences sur les collections rapportées récemment de la mer des Indes par M. Dussumier de Bordeaux. Bulletin des Sciences Naturelles et de Géologie, 25: 108–110.
Gerlach, J. 2006. Terrestrial and freshwater Mollusca of the Seychelles islands. 141 pp. Backhuys, Leiden.
Gray, J.E. 1855. Catalogue of Pulmonata or air-breathing Mollusca in the collection of the British Museum, Part 1. iv, 92 pp. British Museum (Natural History), London.
Humbert, A. 1862. Description d’un nouveau genre de Mollusque Pulmoné terrestre de Ceylan (Tennentia). Revue et Magasin de Zoologie Pure et Appliquée, 14(2e série): 417–430.
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McAteer, W. 2000. Hard times in Paradise – The History of Seychelles 1827–1919. xiv, 322 pp. Pristine Books, Seychelles.
Oustalet, M.E. 1878. Etude sur la faune ornithologique des îles Seychelles. Bulletin de la Société Philomathique de Paris, (7)2: 161–206.
Voisin, C., Voisin, J.-F., Jouanin, C. & Bour, R. 2005. Liste des types d’oiseaux des collections du Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle de Paris, 14: Pigeons (Columbidae), deuxième partie. Zoosystema, 27(4): 839–866.