The Galapagos Islands are famous for many things – romantic Galapagos cruise trips, Darwin’s finches, impressive volcanic landscapes, spitting iguanas and dancing blue-footed boobies, to name just a few, but of all the Galapagos Island wildlife, the most iconic symbol of the archipelago is the giant Galapagos tortoise.
Sadly, Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island species of Galapagos tortoise, passed away a few months back, but it’s encouraging to see the work that’s being done to help to conserve populations of his close relatives.
THREATS TO THE GIANT GALAPAGOS TORTOISE
Initially, it was humans who threatened to wipe out the Galapagos tortoise. Back in Darwin’s day, the park rules weren’t quite so strict and they used to dine on tortoise meat regularly. Darwin himself is even reported to have ridden one! Because giant tortoises can go for many months without food and water, they were the ideal meat of choice for long journeys at sea. Scores of them would be loaded on board ship as a reliable source of fresh food.
Today, it’s introduced species that threaten their numbers, and it’s encouraging to see that breeding centres have been established on some of the islands to help the young through their most vulnerable days.
ISLA ISABELA TORTOISE PROJECT
On Isla Isabela, you can stroll 20 minutes out of town, on board walks over flamingo-inhabited lagoons, to the Crianza de Tortugas. It’s free to look around, and you can learn all about the rehabilitation of the tortoises.
Newborn tortoises make easy prey because of their soft shells. Almost none of those born in the wild manage to survive because animals such as cats, dogs, goats, pigs and cattle, brought to the islands by colonists, either eat or trample the eggs and young. Even ants, which were introduced to the islands accidentally on cargo ships, are capable of devouring newborn tortoises.
Centre staff collect the eggs, carrying them in the same position in which they were found to protect the embryo. They are incubated for the first few months and only released back into the wild when their protective shell is fully formed.
SEE TORTOISES IN THE WILD ON SANTA CRUZ
If you’re looking for a good spot to see giant Galapagos tortoises flourishing in the wild, there is a ranch on Santa Cruz where you can wander among the giant beasts and, of course, squat behind one for that essential photograph.