Charles Darwin spent more time on Santiago Island in Galápagos than he did on any other island in the archipelago. He stayed behind here to explore the island on foot over nine days, collecting samples with the ship’s physician while the Beagle sailed without them to San Cristobal to resupply. The story of Darwin’s time in these islands is an integral part of every Lindblad-National Geographic Galápagos expedition. One of our fantastic guests teamed up with National Geographic Endeavour’svideo chronicler Steve Ewing to tell the story of Charles Darwin’s time on Santiago Island in Galápagos.
A Dispatch from the Galápagos Islands
by Ralph Lee Hopkins, Director of Expedition Photography at Lindblad Expedition-National Geographic
Here in the new Galápagos airport on Baltra Island I’m reminded just how remote the Galápagos Islands really are. I’m returning from a series of photography expeditions with Lindblad Expeditions on board the National Geographic Endeavour. Even in this modern age it takes time and effort to travel this far off the beaten path—a pilgrimage to one of the last places on Earth that is totally wild and pristine.
Straddling the Equator, it’s hard to imagine a place on earth with a higher percentage of endemic species, including the famous Darwin’s finches, playful Galápagos sea lions, and the world’s only marine iguanas. What separates the Galápagos Islands from other places in the world is that 97% of the land is protected within the Galápagos Island National Park, and the islands are surrounded by one of the largest and most successful marine protected areas in the world. My hope is that it will always be this way.
Guests exploring Galápagos aboard National Geographic Islander had a rare encounter last month. While hiking on Santa Fe Island they found a small rat that managed to get its teeth caught in the mesh of a backpack a guest had left sitting on the beach. The tiny animal turned out to be the seldom-seen Santa Fe rice rat, one of the few mammal species endemic to the archipelago. The rat was released back into the wild with a handy bit of pocketknife work.
“The Santa Fe rice rat is eminently vegetarian. It is a fearless creature that normally comes out at dusk or at night. This afternoon was a rather gloomy one, therefore some rats were seen. This was a fantastic and unforgettable sighting of one the least known animal species of the archipelago. The picture that Walter Perez took today is the first ever published in our daily expedition reports!”
Spend a day with our guests on Santa Cruz Island in Galápagos and see not just the strange and beautiful wildlife, but the way some residents choose to make a live: sustainable farming in the highlands. We visit a farm that produces sugar cane in the old-fashioned method, plus shade-grown coffee, and a Galápagos liquor made from fermented and distilled sugar cane juice.
When the Galápagos tortoise Lonesome George died at the Charles Darwin Research Station earlier this year, it was thought that his subspecies had gone extinct. Researchers at the Darwin Station had hoped Lonesome George would breed with tortoises from neighboring islands, but he died never having sired progeny in captivity. He was the last of his line.
But a new study conducted by Yale University researchers has found that tortoises living in the wild near Wolf Volcano share much of the same DNA as George. And they agree that it’s possible more of his kind could still be living in the wild. A survey of 1,667 wild tortoises identified 17 descendants of the same ancestors of George. Of the 17, five were juveniles suggesting that a purebred tortoise, the same as George, may still live on the island. If one does exist, it wouldn’t be the first time this subspecies has made a startling appearance.
George’s subspecies, Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni, was wiped out by human settlers in the early 1900s and declared extinct—until a George was discovered in 1972.