The Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative is a project undertaken by Galapagos Conservancy in partnership with the Galapagos National Parks Directorate and the Charles Darwin Foundation.
The following update appeared in the Galapagos Conservancy's Fall-Winter 2015 Galapagos News publication, reprinted here with the kind permission of Galapagos Conservancy. It was written by Dr. Linda Cayot, Galapagos Conservancy's Science Advisor and guest naturalist guide on our Galapagos Conservancy cruises.
Wolf Volcano Expedition
From November 18-28, 2015, team members collected hybrid adult tortoises with partial Pinta and Floreana ancestry from Isabela Island's Wolf Volcano and additional blood samples were taken from unknown tortoises. Following the expedition, breeding programs for both islands will be established at the Tortoise Center on Santa Cruz.
San Cristóbal Tortoise Census
In early 2016, this major expedition will count tortoises, collect blood samples, and gain a greater understanding of this population, one of the lesser known populations in the Archipelago.
Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise Census
This census will focus on the small, less well known population of tortoises on Santa Cruz — the Eastern Santa Cruz tortoise — to determine population size, distribution, and threats.
For more information on tortoises of Santa Cruz island, see our November 4th story here.
Santa Fe Tortoise Monitoring
Follow-up monitoring trips will be carried out on Santa Fe Island every 3-4 months for the next two years. Trips will focus on locating and determining the status of the young tortoises and measuring impacts on the vegetation in the established exclosures and quadrats.
Based on last year's center-wide evaluations, Galapatos Tortoise Restoration Initiative staff will work with the Galapagos National Park Directorate to develop on operations manual and an open-access database for the three Galapagos Tortoise Centers. They will conduct additional training and education for all Tortoise Center staff.
Search for Tortoises on Fernandina Island
Only one giant tortoise has ever been seen on Fernandina Island, the westernmost island in Galapagos. This tortoise was collected by the California Academy of Sciences during their 1905-06 expedition. Since then, tortoises have been considered extinct, most likely due to volcanic activity. However, tortoise scat was found in 1964, a possible sighting of a giant tortoise was documented during an aerial survey in recent years, and additional scat and tracks were observed on a recent botanical expeditions. A thorough search is needed to determine if these sightings are, in fact, evidence of an existing Fernandina tortoise population.
About the Author
Dr. Linda Cayot has worked for Galapagos conservation for more than 30 years. She first came to Galapagos in 1981 to study giant tortoises for her PhD from Syracuse University and she has stayed involved in the Islands ever since.
Linda served as herpetologist of the Charles Darwin Research Station from 1988 to 1998, during which time she supervised both the giant tortoise and land iguana breeding and rearing programs, worked extensively with the recently deceased Lonesome George, the last member of the tortoise subspecies Chelonoidis abingdoni from Pinta Island, and supervised Ecuadorian students studying the endemic reptiles of Galapagos, among many other endeavors.
In her final year with the CDRS, Linda coordinated the start of the successful Project Isabela, aimed at ridding Isabela and other islands of feral goats. She is currently the Science Advisor to Galapagos Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the long-term protection of the Galapagos Islands.
Linda participated in returning tortoises to Pinta Island in 2010, and more recently, she played a leading role in the Galapagos Tortoise Workshop of July 2012, making plans for the next 10 years of tortoise conservation in Galapagos.
Linda will once again be accompanying the annual Galapagos Conservancy Cruise.
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.