The 334 giant tortoises released in Galapagos last month had been raised in Ministry of the Environment-sponsored breeding centers on Santa Cruz and Isabela Islands. Many Galapagos giant tortoise populations are endangered as a result of human exploitation and changes to the reptiles’ natural habitats. Conservationist efforts to the recover the endangered species include raising tortoises in breeding centers with the eventual goal of releasing them into the wild. The project reached a goal last month when adult tortoises were released from the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Breeding Center on Santa Cruz Island and the Arnaldo Tupiza Tortoise Breeding Center on Isabela Island.
Giant tortoises released from breeding center
Of the more than 300 giant tortoises released in Galapagos last month, 87 were from the species Chelonoidis darwini, which is also known as the Santiago Giant Tortoise. These tortoices had been bred and raised in “Fausto Llerena” on Santa Cruz Island. Chelonoidis darwini’s natural habitat is the rocky areas of Santiago Island. This species is considered to be critically endangered by the ICUN’s red list: the species population has plummeted by 95% in the last three generations. These 85 giant tortoises released from the breeding center and returned to their natural habitat on Santiago Island represent a significant portion of the Santiago Giant Tortoise’s overall population, which is only beginning to recover thanks to breeding and repatriation programs like this one.
The other 247 giant tortoises released were from the species Chelonoidis guntheri and Chelonoidis vicina, both natives to Isabela Island. These tortoises had been raised in Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Center on the same island. The Chelonoidis guntheri’s natural habitat is the humid areas around the Sierra Negra volcano on Isabela. This species is also considered critically endangered. The Cheleonoidis vicina, or Albemarle Giant Tortoise, is native to the forests and shaded areas of the Cerro Azul volcano on the southern portion of Isabela Island.
“The work of freeing the tortoises is comforting. When you see how the small tortoises start to scatter in their new homes, it reconfirms that all of you work was worth the effort,” José Gil, a park ranger and Isabela native, said, according to a press release by Ecuador’s Environmental Ministry.
Returning the tortoises to their original habitats was full of logistical challenges. In some cases, conservationist officials had to use helicopters to reach the remote areas inhabited by the tortoise populations. Nevertheless, these tortoise breeding and repatriation programs are essential for the survival of these unique species.
If you are interested in learning more about giant tortoises and other Galapagos iconic species, please download Metropolitan Touring’s Big15 catalogue.