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article imageGalapagos giant tortoise recovers from near extinction

By Paris Franz     Jun 27, 2010 in Environment
The giant tortoises of Española Island in the Galapagos have stepped back from the brink of extinction, thanks to a captive breeding programme.
A survey of Española, the southernmost island of the Galapagos chain, has shown that it is now home to a thriving, reproducing population of more than 1,500 giant tortoises, the Guardian reports. At one point during the 1970s there were just 15 left on the island.
“During the expedition, we found nests, recently hatched tortoises, and adults born on Española, which indicates that the tortoise population is doing well. We will now need to determine if further captive breeding of the Española tortoise is necessary,” explained Washington Tapia, Technical Coordinator for the Galapagos National Park Service and leader of the Española survey, in a statement published by the Galapagos Conservancy, which partly funded the survey.
The survey was carried out over a period of 10 days by 24 park wardens to monitor ecological conditions on Española. Focussing on the giant tortoise, albatross, cactus and woody vegetation of the island, they found encouraging signs of recovery.
The Galapagos chain, some 600 miles west of Ecuador, are a Unesco world natural heritage site and home to dozens of endemic species found nowhere else. The islands have endured great environmental degradation over the years, from the sailors who killed tortoises for their meat to the introduction of goats to the archipelago which proceeded to strip the vegetation bare. It was only in the 1990s that the goats were successfully culled, allowing species such as the giant tortoise to be re-introduced.
“Tortoises have begun to play their role as ecosystem engineers,” Tapia told the Guardian. “We can say with certainty that the ecological integrity of Española is being re-established.”
The project's success has bolstered a plan to “re-tortoise” another island, Pinta, with the same species in the hope of re-creating a “pre-human” balanced eco-system, the Guardian reports. Pinta was for a long time home to just one giant tortoise, Lonesome George, who has failed to reproduce despite years in a captive breeding programme. A preliminary batch of 39 tortoises were introduced to Pinta in May.
More about Galapagos islands, Giant tortoise, Ecology
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