June 3, 2012
Back in 1970, after an intensive search conducted over the entire island of Española or Hood Island; the Galapagos National Park with scientific support from the Charles Darwin Research Station, identified the last thirteen individuals of a giant tortoise species, endemic exclusively to that particular Island, Chelonoides Hoodensis, who were the last of their kind living, rather scattered, across the relatively small but rocky island. They were immediately taken to the tortoise rearing center on the island of Santa Cruz, headquarters of the National Park and the Research Station, to initiate a controlled program of breeding and rising in captivity.
In the meantime, an aggressive program to eradicate introduced feral animals, mainly goats, from Hood Island was undertaken. A few years later, the efforts proved successful and the island was declared free of goats, an introduced mammal which competed with the tortoises for the same kind of food: several species of plants.
While the island of Hood was being freed of these invasive species, the tortoises breeding program bore its first fruits with the birth of the first batches of Chelonide Hoodensis baby tortoises, in controlled captivity. The program had intelligently planned for the tortoises to reach a certain age, between four and six years, when their carapace and other physical characteristics would enable them to be able to successfully survive, on their own, if and when released back to their original natural habitat.
And so, a success story, an actual model for endangered species management in the world, was staged in Galapagos, thanks to the persistence, sacrificed work, endurance and strategic planning conducted by national and international, public and private organizations, led by the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Research Station.
The release of the tortoise number one thousand was a big event and celebration some years ago. Last week, in commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of the Hood Island tortoises’ rescue, the Galapagos National Park repatriated a new batch of 28 juvenile individuals of the Chelonidis Hoodensis tortoise species back to Hood Island, totaling, four decades later, a remarkable number of over 1700 individuals reintroduced to their native island in secure conditions. Thus, a unique giant tortoise species which was at the brink of extinction, now registers a healthy population of a few thousand individuals, living and reproducing naturally and without disturbance on the remote island, the southernmost of the famous Galapagos Archipelago.
This brand new group of tortoises was released on a location in the central and slightly elevated part of Hood Island, at the place called Las Tunas, chosen as result of advanced planning, precisely because the rain fallen during this year’s rainy period, which just ended last month, boasted ideal conditions for the 28 young tortoises to have sufficient water and food conditions, to allow them for a safe and successful re-adaptation to their natural habitat.
The occasion served to conduct a field evaluation, on-site, of the monitoring program which is being conducted with modern-day technology; whereby eleven tortoises have been tagged with GPS devices and are being studied both on location as well as remotely, via the digital instruments, to keep close track of their feeding and breeding habits, as well as their movements within the island. This program has been implemented by the National Park, with the collaboration of the Max Planck Institute of Germany. Thus, once more, the Galapagos Islands is proving to be a practical “laboratory of nature”; staging success stories in the everlasting effort to preserve the unique species which inhabit this extraordinary Archipelago of Ecuador, a World Wonder of nature and UNESCO World Heritage Site….