Quito, Apr 10 (EFE).- A total of 86 tortoises bred in captivity as part of a captive breeding program that closed in 2021, were released into their natural habitat in Ecuador’s Galápagos archipelago.
The pre-release process of another 250 tortoises is yet to be completed, the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition said in a statement on Monday.
The Galápagos National Park Directorate, in collaboration with the organization Galápagos Conservancy, released the 86 hatchlings, aged between 5 and 6 years, of the Chelonoidis hoodensis species that is endemic to Española Island in the Galápagos.
The animals come from the captive breeding center of Santa Cruz Island, located in the center of the archipelago.
These tortoises have already fulfilled the conditions to safely integrate in the island’s ecosystem, the ministry said.
Prior to their release, the tortoises were subjected to extended quarantine, internal and external deworming, and an identification microchip was placed on each of them.
They were then transported by helicopter to the central-southern part of Española Island to speed up their release.
“The conservation efforts implemented by the national government, in synergy with our strategic partners, have been fundamental in carrying out successful ecological restoration programs such as this one, which has been a work of more than five decades,” Danny Rueda Córdova, director of the Galápagos National Park Directorate, said.
He added that the captive breeding program, together with the management actions implemented on the island, have made it possible to “save a species that would otherwise have become extinct.”
Washington Tapia, general director of Galápagos Conservancy, said that the repopulation of Española Island with tortoises has been “a key element in the process of ecological restoration of the island, because they are the main herbivore and help to clear the areas where albatrosses land when they come to the island to breed and nest.”
He explained that, although the tortoise breeding program on the island closed in June 2021, some 267 hatchlings remained in captivity until they were old enough to be released.
The group of tortoises that do not yet meet the conditions to survive in the wild will remain at the Fausto Llerena breeding center.
Part of this program was the famous male tortoise, Diego, who was returned to his native Galápagos island from the San Diego Zoo.
Diego has become a symbol of Galápagos conservation, since 40 percent of the tortoises repatriated to Española Island are estimated to be his descendants.
The Galápagos archipelago – which consists of 13 major islands, six smaller islands and scores of islets and rocks – was made famous by 19th-century British naturalist Charles Darwin, whose observations of life on the islands inspired him to develop his theory about evolution, natural selection and the origin of species.
Located in the Pacific Ocean about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) off the coast of mainland Ecuador, the islands are home to more than 7,000 endemic and native species, many of them found nowhere else on the planet.
The islands were declared a Natural Heritage Site for Humanity by UNESCO in 1978. EFE