The Tortoise Rehabilitation Process

September 26, 2007
Day 728

Picture of mouth.

A tortoise with its mouth open.

Just like on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal, Isabela has a center dedicated to protecting the unique wildlife on the Galapagos Islands. Unlike the other islands, however, the educational center on Isabela gives visitors a first-hand look at the rehabilitation of the galapagos tortoises.

When I visited the center today, I got to see the tortoises in every level of development. They start out as eggs, where they are incubated at different temperatures to produce males and females. Next, they spend six months in small pens away from the other tortoises, then they get five years in a larger holding area before being released into the wild. This process is now necessary because the introduced pests like goats, cats, dogs, pigs, and ants guarantee that the turtles can't survive to adulthood in nature.

The situation was once so dire, there only remained ten members of one species and seventy of another. However, the populations are now increasing and it looks like they will survive with continuous help from humans. The scientists working on the project will never see the fruits of their labor, however. It takes at least thirty years for the tortoises to be able to reproduce, and over one hundred for them to reach the massive size of the few remaining original specimens.

This afternoon I took a long walk through the wetlands to the Wall of Tears, which was built by prisoners. The Galapagos really had it all in their history. I kept forgetting that in a addition to the pirates, whalers, and fishermen, prisoners were sent to the islands as well. And just when I was contemplating what it must have been like to be forced to build a huge wall here, I ran into a wild tortoise right in the path! It wasn't as big as the ones at the rehabilitation center, so I guessed with my complete lack of turtle knowledge that it was twenty years old. It didn't seem to care that I was there until I got a few feet away, at which point it retracted its head into its shell and made a loud hissing noise at me. If I didn't know it was harmless, I would have been freaked out, but as it were, we remained good friends the rest of the afternoon.

The photo album for this entry is here.

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