Galapagos Day 5: The freakishly large turtles of Santa Cruz.
Galapagos Islands Travel Blog› entry 246 of 251 › view all entries
September 25th, 2008 – by: cmgervais
Our first stop today was the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island. This center was established in 1964 by the Charles Darwin Foundation to conduct research and provide education for conservation in the Galapagos. The center has a breeding program for Galapagos Land Iguanas and Land Tortoises, which was the focus of our visit.
I have seen photos of the giant tortoises of Galapagos, but pictures really didn't prepare me for how incredibly HUGE these creatures are up close. WOW! They are like small automobiles! We saw dozens of them -- some very, very old (they live about 200 years), collected from individuals who used to keep them as "pets" before the national park was created in 1959. There were also many baby turtles, bred at the center and waiting until their fifth birthday to be released into the wild, each species to the island from whence his breed originally came (each island developed independently and has its own breed or breeds of turtles).
The most interesting guy at the center is Lonesome George. His breed was thought to be extinct when he was found by a student on Pinta Island in the 1970s... the last turtle on the island. He was brought to the center and a search for a mate began. They have called zoos and institutions across the world looking for a female Pinta turtle, all to no avail... Lonesome George remained lonesome. Finally, two similar breed females were introduced to his corral in hopes that they would breed. And twelve years later, they finally have! Scientists are waiting to find out if the new eggs are viable.
We also saw Land Iguanas, which are also being bred at the center. (Both iguanas and turtles were highly endangered on the islands because passing sailors kept eating them.) This was a good stop, and it was very interesting.
After Charles Darwin, our group broke up to explore the town of Puerto Ayora on our own. Steve and I did some shopping, checked in to the hotel, and I also signed up to go on a dive trip tomorrow (!). (Steve has work to do, so I will be going it alone.)
Later, we all met up again and boarded a bus bound for the highlands of Santa Cruz. Since we hadn't gotten the nice little snacks and cocoa that we have become accustom to on the boat, we were all ravenous! Lunch was slow and quiet, and when we finished it seemed we were all ready for a siesta. But it was time to board the bus again... we were off to see more turtles, this time in the wild. I expected something akin to tracking lions in Africa (except slightly less thrilling), but there was no need for stealth and long searches here -- when we got to Primicias Ranch we found turtles EVERYWHERE.
Back at the hotel, the group from the Seaman II reconvened on the hotel patio for drinks, dinner and goodbyes. We all wished for more time in the Galapagoes, and Steve and I will actually get it: the rest of the group flies out tomorrow, but we have arranged to stay an extra night on Santa Cruz. I hope to spend that extra time in the company of hammerhead sharks on tomorrow's dive!
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