The endangered jewels of Galapagos
The majority of the information in this section is from: CDF, GNPD and INGALA 2008. Galapagos Report 2006-2007. CDF, GNP and INGALA, Puerto Ayora, Galapagos, Ecuador
The Galapagos flora and fauna, including the lumbering giant tortoises, the brightly colored land iguanas, foot-high penguins, flightless cormorants, the amazing complex of Scalesia plants, and many others, are the jewels of the Archipelago and the dominant attraction for visitors. The status of both native and endemic species is a key determinant of research and management programs of the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) and the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF).
The listing of species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, which is continually updated to reflect both positive and negative changes in the flora and fauna of the world, provides an up-to-date assessment of the status of each species for use by conservationists and managers in prioritizing their work. The endemic species of Galapagos are of the greatest conservation interest because their future depends entirely on their continued existence in the islands.
While the number of species in an endangered category may change over time, the principal causes for extinction remain the same. They are:
- Habitat loss and or/ fragmentation
- Historical exploitation (as in the case of Galapagos tortoises and fur seals)
- Arrival of introduced species that are predators or disease vectors, or that compete for habitat or food
- Introduction of agents of infection, via air or sea, that pose a major risk factor that could lead to extinction of species, as occurred in Hawaii with the introduction of avian malaria
- Hunting, which although illegal in Galapagos can affect both reptiles and birds
- Wildlife smuggling and trafficking
- Increased tourism (without precautionary measures), population growth, and political-economic pressures
- Global warming and its large-scale impacts on natural processes
The number of threatened and endangered species in Galapagos continues to increase as human activity continues to impact the island ecosystems. For the current status of a particular species, we recommend visiting the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Efforts to Protect and Restore Endangered Species
Since the establishment of the GNPD and the CDF in 1959, efforts to protect and enhance populations of endangered native and endemic species have been on-going. Initial efforts were primarily aimed at the larger, more charismatic species such as giant tortoises. Protective fencing to exclude introduced goats and allow small areas of native vegetation to flourish was also begun in the early years. Key programs include:
- Giant tortoises – breeding, rearing, and repatriation; nest protection in the wild (against pigs).
- Land iguanas – breeding, rearing, and repatriation; cat control in nesting areas.
- Galapagos petrels – nest protection in the wild (against pigs, cats, and rats).
- Flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins, and flamingos – regular population censuses.
- Mangrove finch and Floreana mockingbird – new programs aimed at breeding, rearing, and repatriation.
- Endemic flora – protective fencing, eradication of introduced herbivores, reforestation.
- Landbirds – developing baseline data for all species and methods to control the introduced bot fly Philornis downsi.
Current Initiatives to combat these problems: Ecosystem Restoration
While many of the species-specific programs have been ongoing for decades, the GNPD and its many collaborators are now focusing more on ecosystem restoration as a way of improving the status of many species at once. These programs are most often focused on entire islands. Project Isabela (completed in 2006 and focused primarily on eradications of goats, pigs, and donkeys on Isabela and Santiago) was the first such project. Other islands included in the list of ecosystem restoration projects include: Española, Santa Fe, Pinta, Floreana, and Pinzón. In general, the projects include eradication of invasive species, restoration of missing species (in some cases by using an analog species), and habitat restoration.