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Historic expedition to census the giant tortoise population of San Cristóbal

November 4, 2016

San Cristobal tortoise

For three weeks this November, a team of 70 rangers from the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) and the director of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI), Galapagos Conservancy’s (GC) Wacho Tapia, will cover approximately 97 square miles of San Cristóbal to complete the first ever comprehensive census of the giant tortoise population there. Chelonoidis chatamensis, the giant tortoise species native to San Cristóbal Island, is one of the least known of the 11 species that still exist in Galapagos.

This expedition will be organized into 14 camps, each with a field team charged with exploring a specific section of potential giant tortoise habitat. The total area to be covered encompasses more than half the island. Each team will search for and mark all tortoises encountered, noting their general condition, age, and sex. Blood samples will be taken from a subset of tortoises to determine the genetic variability within the population. Additional data will be collected on habitat type and presence/absence of other threatened species. A tortoise recapture phase will provide the data necessary to estimate the total population.

Results of this census will allow GTRI personnel to determine the current state of the tortoise population and existing threats. This information will allow the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment (MAE), through the GNPD, to take appropriate management measures to ensure the conservation of the species and its ecosystem.

This expedition is one of the projects within the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, a collaborative effort of the GNPD, GC, and international scientists. This census, one of the most complex such efforts in Galapagos, required intensive preparation and training of all participants. Initial results of the giant tortoise census of San Cristóbal should be available by early December.

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