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Don't Forget The Tortoises

ECUADOR | Saturday, 12 June 2010 | Views [650]

Lonesome George, last of a line

Lonesome George, last of a line

Imagine having 150 years of experience and not being able to 'do the deed' when everything is on the line.  That's the way it is for 'Lonesome George,' the last of the line of Galapagos tortoises from Isla Pinto. He was found alone on the island in the 70s and relocated to the Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz where he shares space with two females of the same species from another island.  He may be willing but so far hasn't been able to mate successfully.  And time is running out.  Anyone have some tortuga Viagra?

The word ‘galapagos’ is a kind of Spanish saddle. It's the name the Spaniards gave the giant tortoise with the saddle-shaped carapace and it became the name for the islands themselves.  There are 11 – some say 12 – species of Galapagos tortoises, each identified by the shape of its carapace.  Five separate species live on Isabela, each one in the vicinity of a different volcano.  Since the slow moving, low-slung tortoises can’t cross the rough lava fields, populations that have been separated eventually developed into different species.

Females become sexually mature when they are 15 years old and the larger males reach their prime around 45.  Mating occurs whenever an opportunistic male encounters a female that he can pin to the ground and mount.  It isn’t easy and the process can take a while.  A female can store the sperm from several males for up to five years until the environmental conditions seem right to lay 15 – 18 eggs.  The eggs take five months to hatch and the temperature determines the gender of the hatchlings.  Traditionally whalers captured the larger males for food so in many places they are scarce or absent so producing males is a priority. 

Captive breeding has resulted in thousands of young tortoises that have been, or will be, released.  On some islands predation by feral pigs, cats, rats, dogs and goats is such a problem that eradication measures are under way before tortoises can be released.

 

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