Visiting Isla Santa Cruz in the Galápagos Archipelago

Charles Darwin Research Station (continued)

Galápagos Giant Tortoises in their breeding compound, as seen from a trail that passes through the compound allowing close-up views. They're huge but extremely sluggish—it must be really boring being a tortoise.

In this sequence of pictures it looks like the tortoise is "baring its fangs" and preparing to defensively take a chomp out of you. But actually it just woke up and was yawning.

Since the tortoises are restricted to their compounds, they can't forage for food and must be fed by the station's staff. This tortoise was eating ver-r-r-r-y slowly and half of what it got in its mouth fell out before it finished chewing and could swallow.  

This is a different compound where younger tortoises were gathered. These are only coffee-table-sized, instead of sofa-sized like the full-grown tortoises.  

Here's Lonesome George, in all his misery, huddled under his lean-to. He is the last surviving member of his subspecies. If you ask me, it looks like he's really fat—you can see his tortoise fat bulging out of his legholes.  

There were several tortoise breeding compounds, one for each species, with rocky walls separating the compounds. One compound had a trail that allowed you to get close to several Giant Tortoises (which is the species name). These sofa-sized reptiles can weigh over 500 lbs and can live well over 100 years. In another compound, we watched tortoises eating stalks and leaves of green plants. Tortoises don't have lips so they can't chew with their mouths closed; half of what they put in their mouths seemed to fall out as they chewed.

The most famous tortoise had his own compound: Lonesome George (in Spanish, El Solitario Jorge). His story is amusing and tragic at the same time. Lonesome George is the last member of the Pinta Island subspecies—once he's gone, there are no more. Scientists have been trying for years to get Lonesome George to mate with females of a similar species, so far with no luck. George just isn't interested in the ladies. I saw Lonesome George in his compound and he sure did look lonesome and forlorn, huddled under a cramped lean-to hut.

Scientists are breeding tortoises in captivity to reintroduce them into the wild to replenish the natural population. The natural population is not big enough to replenish itself, and some island subspecies have become extinct. One reason there are so few remaining tortoises is that during the days of whaling, ships would visit the Galápagos Archipelago to capture tortoises. Stored upside-down in the hold, tortoises could remain alive without food and water for up to a year, providing many tasty meals for the sailors. It's estimated that over the years a total of 100,000 tortoises were taken.

There were other breeding compounds for land iguanas, big orange-colored lizards native to the islands. The other notable Galápagos lizard is the black marine iguana but these apparently don't need help breeding. Marine iguanas live near the shore where they swim through the water and dive below the surface to feed on algae growing on submerged rocks. We actually saw one swimming through the water near the Darwin Center's dock, wriggling its body and tail like a snake but not using its limbs.

Previous Page   Next Page   Section Contents Page   Main Contents Page   Sailboat Cruising Page   Home Page