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Giant Tortoise Census on Darwin Volcano Indicates Ecosystem Recovery

November 25, 2019

Park guard and tortoise on Darwin

A healthy population of growing giant tortoises, large numbers of Opuntia insularis cacti, and abundant presence of bird species are several indicators that the ecosystem on Darwin volcano, Isabela Island is recovering after the eradication of wild goats there in 2006, according to Wacho Tapia, Director of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI).

As part of the activities of the GTRI, thirty scientists and park rangers covered approximately 200 square kilometers of the volcano during a recent ten-day expedition and managed to locate, take data from, and mark 1,150 tortoises with microchips. The population of the Darwin Volcano tortoise species (Chelonoidis microphyes) was previously estimated at 400 individuals and categorized as “Endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“We consider the population of this species of tortoise to be healthy, with an estimated size of 2,000 individuals — of which 40% are females and 60% is made up of undetermined males and juveniles. The figure confirms a good state in reproductive terms, because according to preliminary results there are 1.1 females for each male,” said Tapia.

Stool samples of the tortoises were also collected for the subsequent study of their diet; for decades, the tortoises here had to compete for food with introduced goats but the habitat has now improved immensely.

“The final results of this census will provide information that will allow us to make management decisions to guarantee the conservation of the native and endemic species of this area,” said Jorge Carrión, Director of the Galapagos National Park.

Based on a news release from the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), translated with their permission. Image © GNPD.

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