Tortoise Encounters

The lesson of the day was the difference between turtles and tortoises…it’s simple really, yet I had no idea…turtles live in water and tortoises live on land.  We got to see both giant tortoises and giant turtles.  I’ll post about the turtles later.

So far we’ve visited three tortoises viewing locations.  A farm on Floreana, a breeding center on Isabela, and the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz.  We have a fourth location to visit tomorrow.  It’s truly amazing what has been done to bring the tortoise populations back in the Galapagos.  Much care is given to keep the species pure or find ways to get back to a “pure” species.

I learned the most from the breeding center we visited on Isabela.  Breeding tortoises are kept in separate pins based on species.  Once a female is ready to lay eggs she digs a hole.  The process of digging the hole can take up to three days.  Female tortoises have no parental tendencies.  After the eggs are laid, they are dug up and put in incubators for three months.  Later the tortoises transition to a black box, then a safety box (basically a pin covered with chicken wire), and finally they end up in a juvenile training camp.  Tortoises spend up to six years at the breeding center before being released.  Once the tortoises make it to the safety boxes, school-age children adopt them and take care of them until they are released (a six year commitment).

Aside from the lesson learned above about tortoises living on land, here are a few other things I didn’t know (or had forgotten):

  • Tortoises can go extended periods of time without eating.  This made them a very popular food source for mariners of the past, and was a large contributor to their population decline.  They were able to load their ships with tortoises and have fresh meat for a long time.
  • Tortoises are mostly solitary mammals.  However, they will group together at times for heat.
  • Tortoises can’t survive long on their backs, so if they get turned over they are doomed.
  • Tortoises can live for up to 150 years.

So, what was my favorite part…we got to hold a baby tortoise at the Isabela breeding center.  It was a bit smaller than one of my hands.  When holding one that small, it’s hard to believe they can grow to be over 600 pounds.  We weren’t allowed to take photos, so unfortunately I can’t post one here.

I knew I’d see some amazing animals on this trip, but I didn’t know that I would also learn so much.  It’s been a fantastic journey so far.

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