Giant Tortoises of The Galapagos

Giant Tortoise, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

Giant Tortoise, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

Giant Tortoise, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

Giant Tortoise, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

The Galapagos Islands have been instrumental in the study of evolution dating back to the 1830s when Charles Darwin visited here.  After his voyage on the HMS Beagle, Darwin developed his famous theory of natural selection.  Although his research was largely based on Galapagos finches, the giant tortoises also have an evolutionary story to tell.

Chelonoidis nigra have approximately 11 subspecies, each one occurring on a different island or volcano in this Pacific Ocean archipelago.  Each distinct subspecies developed individual characteristics to suit the conditions in which it lived.  Briefly, the tortoises eat grass, flowers, and cacti; and being land reptiles and weighing over 500 pounds each, their physical range is limited.  So on islands where the grass is longer, for example, the tortoises have evolved to have a more suitable long neck and accommodating carapace (shell) for this condition.


Giant Tortoises, Santa Cruz Island

Giant Tortoises, Santa Cruz Island

After two centuries of over-harvesting by whalers and sea-goers for the fresh meat, the giant tortoises became dangerously close to extinction. Feral animals later introduced by visitors to the Islands also added to the destruction of the species.  This is a creature who lives over 100 years–one of the world’s longest living animals–and yet the population was nearly wiped out by the middle of the 20th century.  When The Galapagos Islands were designated as a national park in 1959, the tortoises were nearly extinct.


Giant Tortoise, Santa Cruz Island

Giant Tortoise, Santa Cruz Island

On Santa Cruz Island the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center began the noble effort of rebuilding the population with a captive breeding program over four decades ago.  I visited this Center and witnessed their remarkable work.  They raise the young (adorable) in the Center for the first five years of the tortoise’s life, then release them to the wild, monitoring their progress and protecting them from feral non-native predators.  The program is run jointly by Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation.  To read more about the Center, click here.  Last week in the news it was reported that the tortoises on the Galapagos Island of Espanola were officially saved from extinction (link here).


We ventured into the highlands on Santa Cruz Island where the giant tortoises live in the wild, and spent the day quietly observing this slow-moving, but spirited, animal.  To see this venerable creature still living and breathing on our planet is a testament to conservation.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander


31 thoughts on “Giant Tortoises of The Galapagos

    • I know you would enjoy the Galapagos Isl., Indah, and all the wild creatures on earth and in the sea. (But the water is surprisingly cold.) I’m happy you enjoyed the post and very glad you stopped by. 😀

    • I hope you get the chance someday, Jan; but in the meantime, there’s plenty to read about regarding these unique islands, and I’m glad you did so here. Thanks so much for stopping by. 🙂

  1. I never saw a giant tortoise before, but my first encounter with a marine turtle was fascinating. Beautiful creatures! You are very lucky. Thank you for sharing your experience with us! 🙂

  2. Galapagos Island is the “Jurassic Park” of the world! I’d love to spend a few months in that island just to observe, photograph and take notes! …It’s good to have a dream! Thanks Jet for inspiring me to dream! 🙂

    • Yes, these islands are so unique because the animals have never had to fear humans, so you can get pretty close without disturbing them. I’m glad this inspired you to dream, HJ, and I hope you always do. 😀

  3. Jet, I pass on to you crucial information that has saved my butt. I know for a fact that if you go over FIFTEEN (15) tags, inclusive of category, your post will not show up in the reader. You have MORE THEN 15 tags on this post, so I know it did now show in the reader. You deserve so many to read and see your work. Good luck!!!! Love, Amy

      • Your post still won’t show, Jet. I know. I made the mistake of going over 15 tags, deleting ONE, and updated it, and mine still did not come through. I had to delete the whole post and start all over again. I HOPE your post showed, Jet. (((HUGS))) Amy

      • I saw it on the Reader, so I guess it went through. But I appreciate the info and warning. It’s really great to be connected in this wp community, and I appreciate your help so much Amy. 😀

      • That is what we should do … help one another. You have such a great blog and I want to see you with lots and lots of people who honor your work. You deserve it, Jet. And I am really glad for you it appear. I just out of sheer exhaustion, did the exact same thing tonight. I posted a post with 16 tags. Now I swore it was only 15 but nope. So I immediately deleted one tag and yes I did see it in the reader. Whew! So glad I could help you, Jet. Love, Amy

    • If you don’t mind spending your time on foot and boats, rather than bikes, you’ll love it. It truly is a very unique place in the world, and the wildlife is spectacular. Thanks Sue! 😀

    • Thanks very much Aquileana. These tortoises have a special place in my heart, and I’m glad I could share their successful conservation with you and my other friends. I really appreciate your comment and visit. 😀

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