The giant tortoise species on Santa Cruz Island is considered the second largest population not only in numbers but also in size amongst the whole Galapagos species. Once considered endangered, this giant creature rebounded from the brink of extinction over the past 50 years or so. Conservation efforts to protect, breed, and conserve these animals have been an important challenge for scientists, national park wardens, and naturalist guides.
Giant tortoises have their common ancestors on the South American mainland. From there, tortoises rafted to the islands in a long journey across the Pacific Ocean. They traveled for 600 miles until they reached this volcanic archipelago. A lack of predators, plenty of space, and a good food supply without competitors all led to a very interesting process of gigantism. Over a long period of time, new species were formed. Giant tortoises are one of the best examples of adaptive radiation found in the Galapagos.
Our visit to the breeding center at the Charles Darwin Research Station led us to pens where hatchlings and young tortoises from various islands are placed. We learned about the processes for protecting eggs in different nesting sites and collecting and transporting those eggs to the center. In addition, we learned about the process for incubating the eggs.
We also had the opportunity to see the tortoises with their saddleback carapaces. We learned about the islands where these tortoises are found. In the afternoon, we traveled to a natural reserve for tortoises, and we enjoyed fantastic encounters with these beautiful creatures in the wild. It is a joy to see the tortoises surrounded by greenery and enjoying the cool mud in freshwater ponds, almost as if they are enjoying a day at the spa!