Did You Know? Galapagos Giant Tortoise – Galapagos Island

Galapagos tortoise

The Galapagos Giant Tortoise is the world's largest tortoise species. The tortoise is typically found in the Indian Ocean and the Galapagos Islands. Giant Galapagos Tortoises are mainly recognized by their large brown, bony, hard upper shell.

During the nineteenth-century whaling period, whaling ships would regularly stop at the Galapagos Islands and capture as many tortoises as they could. The whalers had discovered that the tortoises could live for months without food and water so they could keep them in the hold of their ships as a source of fresh food. Tortoises were also exploited for their oil which was used to light lanterns in Quito, Ecuador.

The whalers also introduced many new species to the islands, such as goats and pigs (to be caught and eaten on subsequent trips) as well as rats, cats and dogs. Giant tortoises’ eggs and hatchlings were preyed upon by rats, pigs, and voracious ants. The tortoises also had to compete for food and habitat with goats and other large mammals.

Two centuries of exploitation resulted in the loss of between 100,000 to 200,000 tortoises. It is estimated that 20,000–25,000 wild tortoises live on the islands today.
A systematic review of the status of the tortoise populations began in 1959 with the establishment of the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation. Only 11 of the 14 originally named populations remained and most of these were endangered if not already on the brink of extinction. The only thing saving several of the populations was the longevity of tortoises, keeping some old adults alive until conservation efforts could save their species.

The Giant Tortoise Breeding Center on Isabela Island is making these conservation efforts possible. At the centre one can see tortoises in the various stages of development from eggs to small hatchlings, to juveniles to subadults. Tortoises remain at the breeding center until they are large enough to survive on their own at which time they are reintroduced to the wild.

Keep an eye on Today's Woman Traveller tours to find out when we'll be setting off again to Galapagos to visit the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre!

Hope to see you soon.  


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