Adapted from Galapagos Conservancy with kind permission from Johannah Barry, President.
One of the major conservation efforts donations help fund in Galapagos is the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, a collaborative, long-term program with the Galapagos National Park Directorate. A recent project that urgently required funding in the wake of drastic cuts to the Park’s budget was the establishment of five acres of farmland in the highlands of Isabela to grow otoy (Xanthasoma) — the primary food used in Galapagos for captive tortoises.
Thanks to donor generosity, Galapagos Conservancy was able to quickly provide the Park with $10,000 to begin planting enough otoy to provide food for the tortoises at the Isabela breeding center for years to come.
Galapagos Conservancy worked with the Galapagos National Park Directorate to release 201 juvenile tortoises on Santa Fe Island — the start of a new tortoise population after their extinction some 150 years ago (watch video of the release). This past June, on the one-year anniversary of their release, the field team returned to Santa Fe to check on the young tortoises. They were able to locate 165 of the original 201 tortoises released. All appeared “fit, fat, and active,” according to Galapagos Conservancy Adjunct Scientist James Gibbs (you can read his account of the trip here).
Subsequent statistical analysis suggests that all 201 tortoises released on Santa Fe in 2015 are alive and faring well. Galapagos Conservancy will continue to regularly monitor this population, and plan to release another group of tortoises to Santa Fe from the breeding center on Santa Cruz when the island greens up — thanks to donor support.
In the coming months, Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative team will be heading to San Cristóbal to conduct a comprehensive census of the giant tortoise population there — one of the least studied tortoise populations in Galapagos — in order to inform future conservation strategies. This census has been planned and postponed several times due to lack of personnel, boats in need of repair, and other issues, but the team hopes to have results soon. Later this year, the team will also be conducting an extensive survey of the newly-named Eastern Santa Cruz tortoise (Chelonoidis donfaustoi) on Santa Cruz Island to determine its range, nesting zones, population size, and potential threats.
The earthquake in April was devastating to Ecuador, and much of the country’s finances are focused on reconstruction in the impacted areas. With a portion of the already-limited Park funds being diverted towards earthquake recovery, the support of our donors is even more essential to ensure the protection of Galapagos tortoises and other endangered wildlife.
How you can help
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Travel with Galapagos Conservancy. INCA has been privileged to operate Galapagos Conservancy's annual cruise since 2009. Join Galapagos Conservancy's Science Advisor Dr. Linda Cayot and lead INCA Naturalist Richard Polatty aboard INTEGRITY for an educational cruise in the Galapagos. Due to their immense popularity, 2016 cruises are already full, however we are now taking reservations for 2017.