Baby Tortoises Found Thriving on a Galapagos Island After a Century-Long Absence

March 30, 2019 Updated: March 30, 2019

The sight of baby tortoise hatchlings heralds the efforts of the species to survive, often against the odds. And after 100 years of no sightings, baby tortoises have been spotted once again on the Galapagos island of Pinzón. Their sighting marks the spectacular climax of decades of destructive (and constructive) human intervention.

The tortoise population of the Galapagos islands has been critically endangered for over a century. But recent births are helping to pull the creatures back from the dangerous precipice of extinction.

A mid-18th century mishap first introduced perilous odds to the fate of the island’s tortoise population. Sailors landing on Pinzón Island inadvertently introduced rats that had stowed away aboard their ships into the fragile ecosystem of the archipelago. The tortoises, who had thrived previously, fell victim to the predation of the hungry rats. The rodents feasted on the tortoises’ eggs and hatchlings, devastating the overall surviving population.

This is a photo of James P. Gibbs (on right), of the State University of New York, with park guards on Volcán Wolf, the…

National Science Foundation (NSF) 发布于 2014年12月27日周六

During the decades that followed, the baby tortoise population was extinguished and species extinction looked imminent.

But the human intervention that killed off the infants of the species contained the means to cure it, too. Researcher James Gibbs was among the lucky few who first discovered the reemergence of tortoise hatchings. “I’m amazed that the tortoises gave us the opportunity to make up for our mistakes after so long,” he said, in conversation with The Dodo.

In the wild, it can take several weeks for newly-hatched tortoises to dig out of their sandy nests. Baby tortoises at…

Galapagos Conservancy 发布于 2014年5月21日周三

So, what happened? In the 1960s, a conservation initiative adopted the last remaining 100 specimens of Pinzón Island’s tortoise population. The meagre handfuls of unhatched eggs were collected and incubated in a safe, controlled environment. The hatchlings were then nurtured until they reached 5 years of age, and became big and strong enough not to fall prey to the rats that had hunted them before.

The hatchlings were then released back onto Pinzón Island. Restoration project officials reported: “The first juvenile tortoises (20 total) from the Tortoise Center were repatriated to Pinzón in 1970.”

©Shutterstock | Jess Kraft

Forty years later, biologists turned their attention to the root cause of the devastation: the rats themselves. In an experimental operation referred to as “Restoring Pinzón Island through the Elimination of Introduced Rodents,” rat-specific poison was spread by helicopters flying over the island.

And it worked. The rats were eradicated.

Gibbs celebrated the fact that the operation “has created the opportunity for the tortoises to breed for the first time. We did a survey [in December of 2014],” Gibbs continued, “to see if it was working for the tortoises, and we found 10 new hatchlings.”

We're excited to share our NEW giant tortoise webcams, streaming from Galapagos!…

Galapagos Conservancy 发布于 2013年11月20日周三

“This is the first time they’ve bred in the wild in more than a century.”

Given the efforts of the species to hide and protect their young while incubating, Gibbs was aware that the survey’s findings were not representative of the newly thriving population at large. “Given projection probabilities,” he shared, “I’m sure there were a hundred times more hatchlings out there.”

No one has seen this tortoise like this for over 100 years

No one has seen this tortoise like this for over 100 years!

KOKH FOX 25 News, Oklahoma 发布于 2019年2月23日周六

Gibbs’s team spotted 300 tortoises on their trip. As of 2018, Pinzón is the largest of the Galapagos Islands from which rats have been successfully eradicated. That’s not all: in February of 2019, an adult female Fernandina giant tortoise was discovered in a remote part of the Galápagos island of Fernandina, the first of her kind to be spotted since 1906.

It’s one giant leap for the tortoise population of the Galapagos. May the centenarians thrive and the celebratory hatching continue!