Sunday, September 24, 2023

Wildlife Wednesday: Galápagos Giant Tortoise

Wildlife Wednesday: Galápagos Giant Tortoise

It’s Wildlife Wednesday – learn about the Galápagos giant tortoise, who can live to be over 100 years old.

“Slow and steady, wins the race …”

We’ve all heard the classic fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. It’s a childhood lesson in determination—near the end of the race, the slow, plodding Tortoise overcomes the speedy yet overconfident Hare.  This week for Wildlife Wednesday, we’re putting the spotlight on the vulnerable Galápagos giant tortoise. With the help of dedicated conservationists, these immense reptiles are recovering from desecrated populations and habitat destruction to also make a triumphant comeback.

Habitat: The Galápagos giant tortoise inhabits seven of the Galápagos Islands, an archipelago
of volcanic islands sprinkled to the west of Ecuador.

Tortoise Trivia:

  • Famed for their role in the development of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, these gentle giants can live to be around 100 years old. The oldest recorded specimen lived to be 170!
  • The climates of each Galápagos Island are different, and tortoises who live on the more humid islands are generally larger and rounder than their counterparts who live in drier habitats.
  •  Giant tortoises can spend up to 16 hours a day resting—it looks like cats aren’t the only ones who indulge in a healthy number of naps.
  •  Out of the 15 original subspecies of Galápagos giant tortoises found in the wild, only 10 remain. The last living member of the eleventh subspecies, Lonesome George, passed away childless last year at the ripe old (estimated) age of 100.

Why they’re threatened:

Human exploitation decimated giant tortoise populations from 250,000 in the 16th century to a mere 3,040 in 1974. When early human settlements began to form on the Galápagos, the tortoises were harvested for meat, and their habitats were overrun by non-native species. As a species, giant tortoises are prone to extinction—their slow growth rate, late sexual maturation, and specific habitat requirements make it difficult for them to re-populate quickly. 

The remaining subspecies of giant tortoise are still listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as “vulnerable”—but things are looking up. Conservation efforts such as captive breeding, legal protection, and island restoration have brought the Galápagos giant tortoise population back to around 19,000. It looks like slow and steady may win the race after all!

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