Santa Cruz Island

Aug 30, 2017 - National Geographic Islander


We saw “Super Diego,” a male tortoise that was returned to Galapagos from the San Diego Zoo in the 70’s when the Park and Station realized the total population of tortoises left on the southern Island of Española was only 14 adults!  Diego and two other surviving male Española tortoises have been breeding successfully in captivity with the 12 females and there are now over 2000 tortoises roaming free on Española! Amazingly, one was seen this week by our guests at the far end of Gardner Bay beach– something I have never personally seen in the 40 years I have been guiding here! So, the tortoises of Española were literally saved from the brink of extinction and in the future we can expect to see them on our hikes on that island. Very exciting!

Walking back thru the town we shopped and took photos, and in particular we enjoyed the fish market where pelicans and a very fat sea lion begged for fish scraps. We had a cool glass of pineapple juice at The Rock Café and then boarded buses to take us to the highlands. Vanessa took a group to visit the charming Tomas de Berlanga School where students guided us around their outdoor classrooms. Enrique and Jason escorted us around a small farm and showed us the processes involved to squeeze sugar cane and produce brown sugar, juice and liquor! We learned how coffee is harvested, dried, and toasted, and we sampled both cane and coffee products.

We also all had a chance to explore a lava tunnel this morning. The tunnel of Bellavista is over 2000 meters long and we walked a full kilometer of this - underground. All these activities definitely improved our appetites and when we at last reached Rancho Manzanillo and served ourselves from a bountiful buffet lunch, we were hungry!

After lunch our Naturalists took us out among the giant tortoises that were grazing, resting, and walking in the green grassy fields around the Rancho restaurant. We got up close and personal and took dozens of photos. It was amazing, even other worldly, to watch the slowly lumbering reptiles. The scene was quite prehistoric. Giant tortoises are relics from an era when reptiles ruled the earth and they have only survived on a few isolated island systems where predatory mammals could not out compete them. In Galapagos hundreds of thousands were taken during the 1800’s by whaling and sealing ships as food for crews on long sea voyages. Now with protection, plus the captive breeding efforts, their populations are slowly increasing.

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About the Author

Lynn Fowler

Expedition Leader

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, and one of seven children, Lynn grew up in various university towns where her father was a professor of physics. Lynn obtained her B.A. in biology from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, followed by a master’s degree in zoology from the University of Florida, which encompassed a study of marine turtles in Costa Rica. She arrived in Galápagos in 1978 and became one of the first female naturalist guides working for the Galápagos National Park.

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