Charles Darwin Research Station, Highlands, Santa Cruz Island

Jun 13, 2019 - National Geographic Endeavour II

The Galapagos National Park Service, together with the Charles Darwin Foundation, are among the most respected conservation institutions in the world. Due in large part to the longstanding breeding centre where tortoises are raised in captivity; a program that started back in the 1960s with the Española subspecies. The population was near extinction due to the presence of introduced goats and donkeys to the Island, which forage the vegetation leaving the tortoises not only without food but also without shelter. After years of research and hard work, the program has achieved 100 percent success. Today over 2,000 young tortoises have been repatriated to their island of origin and are now reproducing in the wild without human intervention.

Santa Cruz Island is the home to the largest subspecies of giant tortoises inhabiting this archipelago. As we get closer to the dock, we could see brown pelicans in the mangrove forest and marine iguanas swimming. Several Darwin’s finches moved from tree to tree, maybe looking for a mate, or for food.

After lunch, the tortoises in the wild kept our groups excited and busy. It was amazing to see them in their natural habitat. Our photographers took the pictures they have come to the islands for. Walking with these incredible friendly creatures made us feel as if we had been transported through time, maybe a hundred years ago, when the tortoises roamed the islands by themselves.

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About the Author

Ximena Cordova


Ximena was born in Cuenca, the third largest city of Ecuador. Located in the Andes Mountains, Cuenca is known as the cultural capital of Ecuador and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site because of its many historical buildings. Ximena gained experience with American culture as an exchange student in Santa Barbara, CA, and later, while living and working at the United Nations in New York City for four and a half years.

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