August 9, 2009
The Galapagos National Park has once again accomplished a new step on its flagship program of repatriating giant tortoises of different species, many of them from species considered in danger of extinction, safely back to their natural habitat. This time the turn was for the rare and unique sub species of giant tortoises which inhabit a remote zone on one of the flanks of Volcano Cerro Azul, the southernmost of Isabela Island’s five giant volcanoes.
Effectively, last week, military helicopters carried 153 tortoises from two of the National Park’s Rearing Centers on Isabela Island back to the area of “Cinco Cerros”, on the southeast of Cerro Azul, accompanied by Park Rangers who will monitor the release process as well as the behavior, development and survival in their original habitat of these unique reptiles, a true symbol of Galapagos.
The rescue, rearing in captivity and repatriation program of giant tortoises has been, for more than two decades, one of the National Park’s most successful tasks.
One of the many Galapagos magic characteristics is that, tortoises and other land, sea or winged species, differ in many ways from their next of kin on other islands. On Isabela, the largest of all the islands, with a surface of over 4000 square kilometers and formed by 5 large shield volcanoes, each volcano bears a genetically and zoologically different species of giant tortoise.
In this case, the repatriated individuals belong to a rare sub species, with a unique carapace shape and size, only found in the area of Cinco Cerros, on the flanks of the imposing Cerro Azul Volcano. 31 of the released tortoises have between 11 and 12 years of age and already weigh around 80 pounds each. The remaining 122 individuals have between 5 and 6 years of age and weigh approximately 10 pounds.
All of the released tortoises passed previously a strict quarantine process to ensure that they will carry no diseases to the natural areas where they will continue their lives. All were pronounced apt and healthy before their aerial voyage to the natural grasslands and wild nature where they were collected as eggs or baby hatchlings and where their ancestors lived.
Conservation is essential for the survival of the unique Galapagos Nature & Wildlife: Flora and Fauna and the National Park, with the assistance of the Charles Darwin Foundation, its field Station in the islands and other institutions, dedicate their time, efforts, professional and technical expertise and all available funds, to accomplish this endeavor. This program has already recovered entire populations of tortoises, such as the unique species of Española Island where, in 1970 there were only 13 individuals left. The rescue and controlled rearing program has allowed, 30 years later, to have repatriated over one thousand individuals of this particular island and species.
While the islands face many problems, there are also success stories and important accomplishments for their conservation, in order to keep on having this Enchanted Archipelago as one of the Natural Wonders of the Planet, today and in many centuries to come.