When the babies are just a little bigger they are moved to covered, outdoor pens and are very well cared for the first two years of their lives. After their 2nd birthday, they are placed in outdoor adaptation pens where they learn how to scavenge for food and right themselves if they turn over, basically learning how to be tortoises. The only natural predator of the tortoises is the Galapagos hawk, but it is only a threat to the young tortoises so the Center raises them until they are 5 years old before releasing them back to the wild. This conservation work is not cheap. From the time the eggs are collected until the 5-year old tortoises are released, the cost averages $5000 per tortoise.
Originally there were 14 species of giant tortoise on the
and they numbered in the millions but in the 18th and 19th century they were decimated by whalers who harvested them for food. These tortoises can live for a year without food or water, so they would stack them by the hundreds in the holds of their ships as a source of fresh meat while out at sea for long periods and invasive species on the islands further threatened them. Today there are only 10 viable species and one single member of a species from
, “Lonesome George” is the last of his kind. But the work of the Center has been very successful. The saddleback tortoises of Española were down to just 13 living animals, 2 males and 11 females. But captive breeding efforts were not going well until “Diego”, an Española tortoise at the San Diego Zoo, was sent home to the Galapagos to save his species. Diego jump started the breeding efforts, so to speak, and today
represents a shining example of the Center’s conservation efforts. One hundred percent of the invasive species have been eradicated from the island and there are now1500 Española tortoises repatriated to the island. By 2007 the Center aims to have all feral pigs and goats eradicated from the park areas. Roslyn said that if the combination of science and management can remove the invasive species the tortoises are going to survive.
After our visit to the
, the students split up to explore the area and get dinner. Tomorrow is a free day for the students, and we will be going on several different day trips of our own choosing.
To learn more about the efforts to restore the Galapagos tortoises visit the Charles Darwin Foundation at: