Giant tortoises are often seen as the unofficial mascot for the Galapagos Islands. They are an amazing animal. Their huge size and the way they move is captivating.
Capturing their true nature in a picture or video is very difficult. Standing near and really observing a giant tortoise up close and personal is something very special.
The Galapagos giant tortoise will not try to get away from you, he will slowly turn his wise face toward you and look you in the eye.
Why Giant Tortoises Need Help
Lonesome George often comes to mind when we think of the Galapagos giant tortoise. George’s story is a sad reminder of what can happen when humans don’t show proper care when dealing with wildlife.
It’s also a reminder of why the giant tortoise breeding program is so important for tortoises on the Galapagos Islands.
The population of giant tortoises was in decline because of the harmful practices of pirates and whalers. Both groups hunted these giants for their meat and oil. They were stored on ships as a source of fresh meat because of their ability to live for long periods of time without food or water.
Introduced species have also been a big problem.
When goats were introduced to the Galapagos Islands they reproduced very quickly and ate large amounts of low-lying food. The tortoises could no longer find enough food within their reach and the population suffered.
Problems like these led to George being the last of his kind, that’s why he was called “Lonesome.” When he died on June 24, 2012 a subspecies of giant tortoise was lost.
Good News and a Bright Future
The goat population has been brought under control and there is strict management of introduced species on the Galapagos Islands. It is now against the law to kill a giant tortoise. The breeding program has been underway since the late 1960′s and has been very successful.
The tortoise eggs are gathered from the wild and brought to one of the breeding stations. They are cared for and protected until they are big enough to be released into the wild. We visited 2 breeding stations, one at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, and another at the Puerto Villamil breeding station on Isabela Island.
The hatching season for Galapagos giant tortoises runs from December through April. The very young tortoises are kept off the ground, in mesh cages, to protect them from predators. The juveniles are kept in large enclosures on the ground where you can get a good look at them.
The young giant tortoises are very cute and move much faster than the adults. It’s fun to watch them scurry around, climbing and tumbling over each other.
In the future the breeding program may no longer be needed because the numbers of tortoises in the wild are rising. This is very good news, but also means that seeing all those babies in one place may no longer be possible in years to come.
Have you seen baby tortoises? What was it like? Please share your thoughts by commenting on this post.