Restoring the Past in the Galapagos

Restoring the Past in the Galapagos

Giant tortoises are one of the best known animals in the Galapagos Islands. And, for nature lovers who choose wildlife holidays in the Galapagos, this is one of the most sought-after encounters. Like many other animals, however, despite its iconic status as the world’s largest tortoise, it faces the challenge of survival, and is now extinct or nearly extinct on several islands in the archipelago.
Of the 14 native populations, only eleven are left – with many of them considered to be highly threatened. The GTRI (The Giant Tortoise Recovery Initiative) is a conservation project  aimed at changing the flow and restoring its population across the island. Restoring the Past in the Galapagos

GTRI work

Established in 2014, GTRI has worked closely with the Directorate of National Parks to achieve a number of objectives. The long-term goals of the initiative include:

• Restoring population to historical summits throughout the archipelago. This includes breeding programs to recover the islands where endemic subspecies have become extinct. Restoring the Past in the Galapagos

• Rejuvenate and restore the required habitat.

• Survey of current population to inform future conservation research and efforts.

• Use genetic advances to improve future conservation programs.

Why Do They Need Help?

In an environment where it has no natural predators for millions of years, the Giant Turtles become the animals most affected by human arrivals on the islands. For years, they were used as a food source by settlers and maritime tourists, who managed to find out that they were able to survive for long at sea. They transport them aboard in holding the ship, and then kill them as needed.

In addition to being a source of food, the population is devastated by the introduction of animals such as dogs, goats, cows and pigs. Dogs and pigs loot eggs and hatchlings, while cattle and goats compete with the turtle’s own food source.

Although it is illegal to catch them today, and introduce animals gradually controlled or removed, in some cases too late. But generating an extinct subspecies, such as endemic disease on the island of Floreana, becomes a reality in itself by GTRI’s deductive work.

Progress Created

Species from Floreana Island have been deemed extinct since 1850. But thanks to advances in DNA testing, scientists were able to determine their genetic traces in 2008. They then tested the hybrid population on Wolf Isabela volcano island that has different DNA, and found that it fits well the extinct Floreana species. How this cross-crossing takes place is a mystery, although the most likely explanation is through human intervention, perhaps by dismantling them among the different islands.

A group of 30 have been transferred to a research center in Santa Cruz, where scientists can analyze their DNA even further. It was found that two were classified F1, meaning that they were descended from two elderly races. Through a breeding program, GTRI now intends to refill Floreana Island with the offspring of these animals – effectively bringing the species back from the dead.

Visit the Past and Future on Holidays in the Galapagos

Thanks to GTRI, past species are now closely related to their future, and it is highly likely that populations can be restored to their natural habitat. Visitors to wildlife vacations in the Galapagos can visit the Tortoise Center in Santa Cruz to see the resurrection of Tortoise Giant Floreana in (albeit very slowly). Restoring the Past in the Galapagos