April 19, 2017
In an expedition that began at 4:00 am on Monday, April 17, 190 captive-reared juvenile tortoises between the ages of four and five years old were released on Santa Fe Island as part of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI). A group of 26 people were required to carry out the release, including rangers of the Galapagos National Park, Galapagos Conservancy scientists, and several volunteers.
The tortoises are of the species Chelonoidis hoodensis of Española Island, and were hatched and reared at the tortoise center on Santa Cruz Island. This species is being utilized to repopulate Santa Fe with tortoises, whose original tortoise population went extinct more than 150 years ago. Prior to their release, the young tortoises underwent veterinary and quarantine controls to confirm that they were in optimal health.
The tortoises were placed in metal boxes and then loaded onto the boat “Guadalupe River” for their transfer to Santa Fe, which lasted about two hours. Once on the island, the tortoises were placed in jute sacks to facilitate their transfer to the central part of Santa Fe approximately 3 miles from the shore. Each member of the expedition team carried between 7 and 8 tortoises along a steep, narrow path for about two hours to reach the release location.
Once at the site, the Park rangers, scientists and volunteers released the young tortoises who quickly became familiar with their new home, sought shelter under the shade of vegetation in the area, and began to feed. The newly-released tortoises join a group of 201 young Española tortoises released there in 2015 (and another five released in 2016), and will help play the important role of “ecosystem engineers” as the largest herbivores on the island.
“With their food patterns and their movement, these new tortoises of Santa Fe will contribute to the complete restoration of the island. It is possible that in a few years we will see this place as it originally was,” said Walter Bustos, director of the Galapagos National Park (part of the Ministry of the Environment).
Galapagos Conservancy’s Washington Tapia, director of the GTRI and expedition leader, said that “this group of tortoises is part of what will be the giant tortoise breeding population. They will be the engineers of the Santa Fe ecosystem and, moreover, today they are an example of what can be implemented with innovative management models.”
In the coming days, a GTRI team will assess how these tortoises adapt to their new environment.
Watch a video of the 2015 tortoise release on Santa Fe Island.