Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative: Program Overview
Giant Tortoise on Isabela Island (© Linda Klipp)
Restoring Giant Tortoise Populations Across the Galapagos Islands
The Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI) is a collaborative effort led by Galapagos Conservancy and the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD). The long-term goal of the initiative is to restore tortoise populations to their historical distribution and numbers across Galapagos, including on islands where tortoises went extinct. This historic effort is composed of four main components:
- Research and conservation on tortoises, vegetation, etc., on targeted islands
- Breeding and rearing tortoises of threatened species
- Repopulation of islands where tortoises went extinct
- Research and management of tortoise-human interactions and conflicts.
This ambitious initiative builds on a half century of tortoise research and conservation carried out by the Charles Darwin Research Station, the GNPD, and numerous visiting scientists and volunteers. Since its establishment in 1985, Galapagos Conservancy has supported much of this work.
Giant tortoise species, along with the endemic rice rats, were the most historically decimated species in the Galapagos Islands. Humans, primarily buccaneers and whalers, exploited them as a food source during the 18th and 19th centuries. They were later harvested for oil. Today, limited poaching of tortoises still occurs in some areas. Introduced species (primarily rats, pigs, dogs, and the Solenopsis ant) prey on tortoises (particularly eggs and hatchling tortoises); others (goats, cattle, donkeys, and invasive plants) damage or destroy tortoise habitat.
A total of 15 tortoise species have been identified. According to the IUCN Red List, six are considered Critically Endangered, three Endangered, three Vulnerable, and two Extinct. In the case of the Fernandina tortoise, it is probably extinct but anecdotal information suggests that a few individuals may remain. The fifteenth species, from Santa Fe Island, went extinct in the mid-1800s; as there is no complete museum specimen, only pieces, the species was never officially described or named.
Major Project Areas of the GTRI
- Tortoise Breeding and Rearing Programs
- Repopulating Islands Where Tortoises are Extinct
- Restoring Tortoise Populations to Historical Numbers
- Human-Tortoise Interactions, Conflicts and Mitigations
Galapagos Conservancy’s primary partners in the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative include the Galapagos National Park Directorate and several scientists from institutions within Ecuador as well from other countries.
The Phillips Family Foundation, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Fondation Ensemble, the Lawrence Foundation, Automated Control Logic, and Michael and Denice Dan. We are also grateful to the GC members and others who provide support for the GTRI as well as for the international scientists who are an integral part of the GTRI.