After growing up in the safe haven of a responsible captive, a group of endangered giant tortoises (Chelonoidis chatamensis) finally graduated to the Galapagos Islands, their ancestral homeland. Also known as the San Cristobal Turtles, they were loose-leaved to run free in Galápagos National Park, located northeast of San Cristóbal Island. The Galapagos Islands were once home to 15 species of giant tortoises, but it was not until the late 1800s when whales and pirates brought with them invasive insects that pruned the turtles for food and ate their hatching. Their numbers dwindled and several species became extinct.
Charles Darwin himself wrote about harvesting a species of tortoise found on the island of Floreana (Chelonoidis elephantopus), which was removed in 1850, 15 years after his first visit to the Galápagos. Others thought to be lost but re-emerged as hybrids of the two species decades later. An estimated 6,700 giant tortoises now roam free in the Galapagos with the help of conservationists. The relatively newborn bunch – Lonesome George was 100 years old – between the ages of six and eight and weighed only 5 kilograms (11 pounds) hoping they would one day gain another 250 kilograms (550 pounds) as adults.
The Galapagos Conservancy wrote on their website, “The young turtles were an important tool in rebuilding the population they reared at about 5 years of age near the time they were released into the wild.” “Turtle mortality rates in the wild are highest for the first few years, often due to lack of food or water, as well as turtle hatchlings being easy prey for both local and aggressive predators. “Once the turtles reach five years of age, they are more likely to survive to maturity.” Since the mid-1960s, tortoise rearing has used to help restore the population of nine of the 11 living species in the Galapagos, making it one of the most successful conservation programs in the Galápagos.
The subject of the positive tortoise news, C. chatamensis Cousins, one of the Chelonoidis hoodensis, rescued from the brink of extinction by the tortoise’s exemplary efforts. Diego, who has hailed by many as the savior of his species, returned to his home in the Galápagos Islands last year, nearly 80 years after taking the tortoise from him. As part of a conservation program, he operated hundreds of turtles, helping to bring people closer to nearly 2,000 over the past few decades than a handful of reptile’s top try, Diego.