In the wake of the death of Lonesome George, the legendary giant tortoise from Pinta Island, last individual of his species, occurred in Galapagos last month; the Galapagos National Park, with the valuable support of The Galapagos Conservancy and other international and national organizations, staged an important Workshop in Puerto Ayora, to determine policies, studies and strategies to enhance the management measures in order to preserve the surviving populations of these magnificent reptiles, actual symbols of the Galapagos’ uniqueness.
The Workshop targeted at establishing protocols, plans and actions for the next ten years, in order to guarantee a sustained, synchronized and well planned management strategy for the preservation of the diverse species of giant tortoises which still inhabit the Archipelago. The global plan includes specific projects which involve investigation, monitoring and prevention actions, designed to better understand the genetic characteristics; population’s dynamics, feeding and reproductive habits; threats and other elements that influence the survival of these millenary creatures.
During a full week of work, herpetologists, geneticists, ecologists, botanists, tortoise experts, researchers and technicians from around the world, under the leadership of the Galapagos National Park’s officials and experts, congregated in Puerto Ayora, the Archipelago’s conservation capital, seat of the National Park and the Charles Darwin Research Station’s headquarters; in order to design a complete Plan meant to ensure the protection of this iconic species. Special emphasis was placed in the study of the ecosystems which are home to the surviving populations of tortoises found in the Galapagos Islands.
A specific project which was not only identified but also prioritized was to continue with the ecological restoration of Pinta Island (home of the recently deceased Lonesome George); but to expand the program, in a technically and coordinated manner, to the Island of Española and Volcano Wolf, in the north of Isabela Island; both of which are home to tortoise species, genetically and morphologically closest to the now extinct species of Pinta. The objective is to preserve these rare and unique species and protect them from extinction, as well as to preserve the integrity of their island’s ecosystems.
Another accomplishment of this Seminar was to recommend and designate a Task Force to standardize the procedures conducted at the Tortoises’ Rearing Centers, in order to maintain homogeneous and reliable data registers of the reproduction and rearing of giant tortoises in captivity. Most of the approved plans will start operating immediately and others in 2013.
A very important aspect of this high-level Workshop was the discussion about the taxonomy and the status of the diverse populations of Galapagos giant tortoises, within the “Red List” of endangered species, as devised by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), respected international institution which delegated the President of the Group of Experts on terrestrial and marine turtles. The studies and conclusions of this Workshop would lead to a re-classification of the “red list” status to some of the tortoise populations in the islands; as recognition to the efficient and dedicated work of the State of Ecuador, the Galapagos National Park and the institutions which participate in the conservation of the Galapagos Archipelago’s unique nature. Thus, a practical legacy of Lonesome George’s demise has been this new effort geared at the mid and long term preservation of the giant tortoises’ species. Meanwhile, the corral that was home during four decades to the legendary animal, was the venue for several memorial ceremonies from the scientific and conservationist organizations, as well as from the local community; to remember and give tribute to the last individual of his species and a never to be forgotten symbol of the Galapagos Islands.