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Galapagos and the saddleback tortoises

ECUADOR | Thursday, 23 January 2020 | Views [130]

Galapagos, what an amazingly diverse and gorgeous place! We chose to explore the islands via live aboard on a small brigantine sailboat called the Beagle. The ship holds 14 maximum guests plus 6 staff and one naturalist. For us we ended up being the only guests on the boat. Meaning we had a custom tour for the 9 of us! Our guide accompanied us on every excursion whether it was on land or in the sea. Our trip started out on Santa Cruz and our journey would cover the southeastern section of he archipelago for the next 7 days. Our schedule included stops at 7 different islands and included land excursions and daily snorkeling dives most everyday. While this can be and was an expensive trip it is indeed, the trip of a lifetime. Each island has it's own collection of wildlife and distinctive place in supporting the flora and fauna there.
Our first stop, Santa Cruz island is one of the most populated islands and is home to the Darwin research station. There we learned of the many efforts to rebuild and or support the unique populations of tortoises and other wildlife found on each island. The research exhibits tell the story of failed efforts to move turtle eggs from one location to another and all the lessons learned. For example, there are ongoing efforts to rebuild the population of the largest tortoise, the Saddleback, in the islands where they were known to originate. Once the DNA was determined for the large tortoises found on Española efforts were made to focus efforts on supporting the production and location of viable eggs and support hatchlings until they are ready to fend for themselves.
We learned the story of lonesome George and Diego. Lonesome George was found in the 70's on Pinta island, he was the lone saddleback tortoise found to be on the island. Years of humans preying on the saddleback resulted in the decimation of the population. It is believed he saddleback was slower and easier to catch by ships crew members. Often times in the early days ships would stop at the islands and collect scores of turtles to eat while continuing their sailing journey. Tortoise were a perfect food sources, as they could be kept below deck, didn’t need food or water for as much as a month at a time and made for tasty food for the crew. Unfortunately, no one considered that this would lead to extinction for this species of turtle. While lonesome George spent his last year’s in captivity all efforts at supporting reproduction were fruitless.
Fortunately, a subspecies of the saddleback Tortoise was identified to exist on another island through DNA studies. A tortoise named Diego who lived in a zoo in San Diego was found to have the same genetic makeup. He is credited with helping to save the species. He was sent back to the Galapagos research station where they found him to be very prolific. There were only 14 tortoise left at this time sometime in the late 70's. He is responsible for about 40 percent of offspring now found on Española. The program is working to raise the baby tortoises before relocating them to a larger enclosure on their home island of Española where they will stay until they can become resilient enough to survive on their own in the wild. Since we visited we learned that Diego has now been retired and will be relocated to Espinola island in the Galapagos islands.


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