Galapagos giant tortoises in the Galapagos islands
The Galapagos Islands
were named in honor of the giant turtles that were found in the islands by the Spanish ship that discovered them in 1535.
The whalers and sea lions hunters found in the turtles an excellent source of fresh meat easily hunted.
The Galapagos Giant Tortoises,
belong to the species Geochelone elephantopus and are vegetarians, the adult males can weigh as
much as 270 kg (660 pounds); the females are smaller. Nobody knows exactly how long they can live but there is a popular
belief that they can reach 100 and inclusive more than 150 years old. The whalers also discovered that they could survive
more than a year without any food or water
The turtles in the Galapagos
certainly enjoy the water when it is available. Mainly on the highlands of the bigger islands they can be found in the
seasonal flooded ponds. Here they enjoy a rest while their shells shine as smooth rocks from the ice age.
FIt is important to mention that the rounded shells that they have developed, have as a main reason the abundant
vegetation of the islands where this adaptation is visible.
While in smaller islands with less trees they have developed longer paws and with the classic high level shell to the
height of the neck that allows them to extend their neck to reach the higher and richer branches that otherwise will be impossible for them to reach. This makes that these turtles receive the denomination of "saddled".
When the islands were discovered there exist about 14 or 15 species of turtles, all of them endemics of the
Galapagos. After the arrival of the whalers 3 or 4 races of turtles were extinguished forever.
The task of the whalers was literally "search and destroy" because according to historical facts a single
ship put up on board at least 600 live turtles as a reserve for their voyages The total of
turtles captured during that period was possibly no less than 150.000 specimens.
This "harvest" of turtles, continued until the beginning of the 20 th century., when they
were murdered to get their oil. Additionally the introduction of domestic animals that fed of the same vegetables and
that also consumed their eggs helped to reduce dramatically their number.
As a result today we just find 10 000 turtles, and only the ones in the islands of
Santa Cruz and Isabella have big populations.
To avoid the extinguish of the giant turtles, the biologists from Charles Darwin Research
Station began to capture the survivors and put them in captivity and started the breeding for reproductive
The 11 surviving turtles from Hood Island (Española) were captured and taken to the station for breeding in
captivity with successful results. When they are 5 years old or big enough to resist the attack of dogs, cats, goats and
rats they will regain their freedom and will be taken back to their homeland.
Turtle eggs are recollected from Pinzon Island, then raised and released when they are
big enough to survive by their own. Six species have been saved from extinction and successfully breed in the
Charles Darwin Station.
Unfortunately for the race of Pinta Island there is only one survivor left, a male found in 1972 know as
"Lonesome George"; today he lives all alone in the Station hoping to find a female, possibly
in a zoo around the world.
In addition to the breeding in captivity, the eradication of domestic animals from the turtles habitats it's the main
concern for authorities of the Galapagos Islands National Park. Almost every wild goat have been
eliminated from mostly every small island.
In 1997 there was a substantial achievement, when all the goats were eliminated from Alcedo Volcano, a very important