Galápagos Conservancy

Newly hatched baby tortoises at the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center

OK, so they’re technically not New Year’s babies because they were hatched in the waning days of 2013.  But as 2014 dawns, there is cause for celebrating at the Galápagos National Park’s Fausto Llerena Tortise Center.

What has scientists excited is that 14 of the 72 baby tortoises hatched there in November and December are carrying partial DNA of the original Floreana Island tortoises that have been extinct since the mid-1800’s.  This raises the hope that tortoises with genes similar to the original species can be restored to the island.

The Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative is a collaborative effort involving the national park and a team of international giant tortoise experts.  One of them is the Galapagos Conservancy’s Science Advisor, Dr. Linda Cayot.

“By building up tortoise populations throughout the islands, these natural landscape architects will help jumpstart the recovery of areas impacted by introduced plants and animals,” Cayot said in a posting on the Conservancy’s website.

Tortoises hatched in the wild take shelter in underground nests for approximately one month to give their shells time to harden.  Only then do they emerge to search for food and water. Contrast that to the treatment received by babies hatched at the tortoise center:  First, they’re weighed, measured and numbered. Then, they’re  placed in a dark box to replicate the month spent in nests.

After 30 days, they’re moved to protective corrals where they get their very first feedings.

The staff at the Tortoise Center is expecting some more arrivals early in 2014. The Galápagos Conservancy says the first eggs still in the incubators are expected to hatch by the end of March.  Also in 2014, the park staff is planning its first trip to Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island to collect tortoises with the goal of increasing the adult breeding population of partial Floreana tortoises.  In a paper published in 2012, scientists said that 84 tortoises with Floreana DNA had been discovered at the volcano. 

So amid all the renewed hope of bringing back tortoises similar to the original Floreana species, we here at Galápagos Digital would like to take the chance to wish our readers a Happy New Year!