May 28, 2010
A crucial landmark in the history of science and conservation, for the Galapagos Islands and for the world, has been successfully accomplished when, after two weeks of their historic release, 39 giant tortoises now freely roam the vast plateaus and valleys of Pinta or Abingdon Island, one of the northernmost of the Galapagos Archipelago.
On Monday, May 17, after a nine hour trip aboard the National Park’s Patrol Boat “Sierra Negra”, the gentle and large reptiles, symbol of the Galapagos, were unloaded at the quiet anchorage of Puerto Posada. From the yellow sandy beach, pairs of national Park wardens took the animals several kilometers inland by slinging them from polls, carried on their shoulders. After forty years of having been held in captivity and under observation at the National Park’s Giant Tortoise Rearing Centers of Santa Cruz and Floreana Islands, and after a lengthy selection and preparation process, the chosen individuals finally arrived to their destination.
Their assigned task is to play a vitally important role, as the large herbivores who will restore the ecological balance on the island of Pinta, after years of having suffered a severe destruction of the island’s vegetation, due to the action of introduced feral goats who had multiplied by the thousands. It took almost two decades to the National Park to successfully and thoroughly eradicate the introduced goats, an objective which was accomplished in 2003. The re-introduction of the giant tortoises is the next step of an ambitious project, meant to be recognized as a world example of ecological restoration.
In 1972, the last individual of its species was found on Pinta Island, “Lonesome George”, the world famous and probably the planet’s most renowned animal celebrity, and taken to the Santa Cruz Rearing Center to undergo an intensive effort to reproduce in order to save his species from extinction. During the following 38 years, Pinta hadn’t seen giant tortoises roaming its fields, until this historic event was successfully completed, two weeks ago. It is important to explain that the 39 tortoises released on this island do not belong to the same species as “Lonesome George”. However, they are expected to fully reestablish the remote island’s ecological balance, fulfilling an emblematic model project of high scientific and conservation management significance.
After a few days process of releasing the tortoises, volunteer university students who had participated of the entire project, together with scientists and National Park wardens will spend two months monitoring closely the movements, adaptation and use of the habitats of these tortoises on their new environment.
A privileged witness of the historic event, Ecuador’s Minister of the Environment, Marcela Aguiñaga, stated with emotion that “the release of these tortoises is a proud moment for science in Ecuador and a reflection of the important work that the Galapagos National Park has conducted for more than 50 years”. She also remarked the importance which the Government of Ecuador attributes to conservation.
To add Galapagos enchantment to the event, framed by the stark beauty of Puerto Posada’s sandy beach, a brightly colored vermillion flycatcher, perched on a rock by the beach, stood there the whole time, to welcome the giant tortoises to their new home…