In celebration of Galapagos Tortoises

The islands are named after them. When you arrive, you get a passport stamp with a picture of one. You’ll probably find it hard to resist buying a t-shirt with one! Galapagos tortoises are one of the most spectacular creatures you will see when visiting the archipelago off the coast of Ecuador and things are looking up for their survival in the wild. Here’s a little more of what I learnt about them on my visit to the islands… and some cute pics!

Chilled tortoise

Baby Galapagos tortoises have been born in the wild for the first time in 100 years! Thanks to the incredible conservation efforts that are ongoing on the islands, there is more and more hope for the tortoises. It’s no easy task to ensure the survival of a species and definitely something worth celebrating!

Baby Tortoise Survival

For a tortoise to reproduce in the wild, a lot of factors have to fall into place. The female goes through quite a process to build the nest, digging for quite a few days. Then about 4 to 8 months later the tiny baby tortoise (6cm roughly) will have to dig it’s way back out and try not to either get stuck or drown if the sea comes in.

The young hero will then have to survive it’s childhood and adolescence with several factors against him or her. Predators unnatural to the islands, falling down a crack in a rock or over heating in the midday sun are all risks. It then takes 15 years for the tortoise to mature sexually, so it will be a while until it can make more of it’s kind.

It’s not easy being a baby tortoise.

Baby and egg
Baby tortoise on a tortoise egg in a breeding centre. This gives a sense of how tiny they are when they are first born.

Why are they endangered?

Giant tortoises were doing just fine on the islands before humans turned up in the 16th Century. The first Spanish sailors to arrive saw so many of them that they named the islands after them -galápago* means tortoise in Spanish. What a sight that must have been.

Unfortunately for the tortoises, they made for a great dinner on a ship. Being able to live for a year or more without food or water, meant they would keep for a long trip and reportedly they had delicious meat. The whaling ships of the 18th and 19th century took advantage of that.

Tortoise head
When left alone, tortoises can live for more than 100 years. The oldest recorded was in his 150’s!

Turtle oil was also collected by the whalers and sold throughout Ecuador. A trip to the interpretation centre on San Cristobal island will show you some horror stories for tortoises.  The photo of one of them strung up to collect the oil with a lamp burning nearby sticks in my mind.

Over the years, hundreds of thousands of tortoises were taken from the islands.

Boats also brought new enemies. Rats wandered off the ships and started eating the baby tortoises and their habitat. People brought goats and pigs and they ate the tortoises habitat too, leaving less and less for them to munch on.

In 1974 it was estimated that there were only just over 3000 tortoises left in the wild.

IMG_0438 Sign
Current populations of tortoises on Isabella Island

Conservation

Conservation work has been going on on the islands throughout the 20th century, creating over 19,000 new tortoises. Centres on the islands breed tortoises and aim to release them back into the wild. They also educate people on the tortoises and why it’s so important to keep going with their efforts.

Teenagers in a pen
Teenage tortoises getting bigger so that they can ultimately be released into the wild

It is well worth building in a trip to at least one of these centres to your itinerary if you are visiting the islands. I went to the following three and can recommend all of them:

  • Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado – San Cristobal island. A tortoise sanctuary you can visit independently. I did this on the way from town to Puerto Chino beach. They also take volunteers and I have to say that I was very tempted to stay!
  • Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Cente – Isabella island. I visited this as part of the itinerary of a boat tour. Tortoises of all different ages can be viewed and they give a short talk on how tortoises develop in the egg and after.
  • Santa Cruz island farm. As part of the conservation work a farmer has donated some land to the tortoises, so they roam free. These farm areas can only be visited as part of an organised tour.
IMG_0374
Entrance to the breeding centre ‘Arnaldo Tupiza-Chamaidan’ where I learnt all about the breeding process and saw a lot of cute babies

 

Me yellow wellies
At the tortoise farm where the tortoises roam free! If you get too close, the tortoises don’t like it and will go into their shell and hiss.

 

More tortoises!

Walking on my friends
On some islands, the tortoises migrate to higher grounds in the hotter seasons so they can reach a cooler climate. In the conservation centres, sometimes friends get in the way of a tortoise trying to migrate.
Mud bath
Tortoises can often be found having a mud bath. This might be to help regulate their temperature or maybe to get rid of pesky mosquitos
munching leaves
Tortoises are herbivores, eating leaves, grass, cacti and berries
Tortoise
Awake now… but not for long! Tortoises can nap for up to 16 hours a day!
Tortoise fight
Youngsters having a row. This may well have been practice for a mating ritual. The two men will display their dominance and usually the taller tortoise will win. I think the on at the back has more chance!
Tortoise head 2
Some tortoises like hanging out by themselves, and some prefer to live in a group

 

*galápago translates directly to turtle on my internet search, but everywhere else I look it is said that the islands were named after the tortoises. Anyone know what the truth is on this word?

 

 

2 Comments

  1. I am brand new to blogging and posted my first blog post on the Florida Gopher Tortoise.I am still learning about the blogging stuff but I enjoy articles like this.This is my dream tortoise to own.I was in awe when I saw them at the Zoo in Tampa Florida.
    Amazing Creatures

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