September 18, 2007
Galapagos Cruise Day 4.1
This morning, Wilmer led us on a tour of the Charles Darwin Research Center, which is the main place on the Galapagos for the rehabilitation of the giant land tortoises from which the islands received their name. We were in a major hurry because some people had to get to the airport, and when we got to see the tortoises for the first time, I thought they were just fake models that had been enlarged to show us more details. However, when I saw one of the tortoises move very slowly, I realized that they were, in fact, real.
We also learned about all of the horrible things people did to decimate the tortoise population on the islands. Sailors used to take the huge reptiles away in their ships by the hundreds because they were capable of surviving without food or water for up to a year, providing fresh meat long after the ships had set sail. Later, people colonized the islands and brought with them non-native animals like cats, dogs, pigs, and goats, which killed tortoises either directly by eating their eggs, or indirectly by eating all of their food. Finally, when populations got really low, teams of scientists came to the islands to remove the "last members" of the species for research, only to have more scientists do the same thing a few years later. People only began serious efforts to preserve the nature of the Galapagos within the last fifty years.
After learning about how endangered some species of tortoise were, we were introduced to Lonesome George. For years, everyone thought the Pinta Island species of tortoise was extinct, but then one male was found in the early 1970's and was brought to the Charles Darwin Research Center. George is now the only member of his species, and while efforts have been made to cross-breed him with a closely-related species, he has refused to mate. He's believed to be between seventy and one hundred years old, and could still live another hundred years.
Seeing Lonesome George was the most disturbing part of my Galapagos visit. When a species is extinct, we can blame it on our ancestors and move on with our lives. When there are only ten members of a species remaining, as happened with another species of Galapagos tortoise, there still is hope for survival. But when there's only one member left, there is no hope, and we have to live with the reminder of what we've done. George will probably outlive us all, and will continue to show people the chilling result of our exploitation for generations to come.
The cruise ended abruptly after the CDRC visit. The Friend Ship will pick up some new passengers and continue her trip around the Galapagos for a few more days, but Daniela and I were left in the road to walk back to town. We could have easily visited the CDRC on our own, so it wasn't really a "five-day" cruise, but most of the tours I looked at were structured that way, so we didn't have much of a choice. Still, the cruise was an amazing experience, and worth every penny.
The travel agent we got our cruise from included a free kayak rental, and Daniela and I took advantage this afternoon. We paddled around the bay of Puerto Ayora, through the huge, crashing waves of the open sea, and into another harbor. We also took advantage of our snorkeling gear one last time. It was pretty scary at times being in such a small vessel paddling through such huge waves, but somehow we made it back to Puerto Ayora alive.
The photo album for this entry is here.