The Galapagos, the tortoise breeding ground

Daniela Brik

Galapagos, Ecuador, Mar 10 (efe-epa).- For millions of years, different types of tortoises adapted to dominate their habitats on isolated volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles from the American continent. Today, it is human beings who are working to prevent their extinction in the famous archipelago to which the chelonians give their name: the Galapagos.

Made up of 13 large islands, six smaller ones and 42 islets, the archipelago, located some 1,000 kilometers off the mainland coast of Ecuador, is home to more than 7,000 endemic and native species, among which land tortoises play a prominent role.

“They are considered the emblem, the symbol of Galapagos,” Fredy Villalba, park ranger of the Galapagos National Park (GNP), tells Efe, surrounded by dozens of specimens that are being prepared for release into the wild.

Villalba runs the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center, created in 1965 on the island of Santa Cruz, and is in charge of supervising the incubators every day, following the growth of hundreds of baby tortoises in their pens and training spaces before they are released.

Conservation efforts for chelonians date back to 1959, when an analysis of the situation of each of the islands showed that these species were threatened both by predation from animals introduced in the nineteenth century, when the islands were a stop for buccaneers and whalers, and by the action of man himself.

The GNP and the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) saw an urgent need to create breeding centers – today there are three on the islands – in order to repopulate the endangered tortoise species.

The Santa Cruz breeding center has a capacity for 1,300 juvenile tortoises from hatching until they are five years old and ready to be “repatriated”.

Considered “nature’s engineers” because of their ability to disperse seeds that germinate better once they pass through their digestive tract, their decline has also had an impact on the fauna of some islands.

Based on field monitoring, scientists estimate that there are between 30,000 and 40,000 tortoises in this world sanctuary, of which around 20,000 are giant species.

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