Until recently, the Galapagos’ westernmost island, Fernandina, was one of the archipelago’s most overlooked enclaves, a rocky outcrop frequented by marine iguanas, penguins, pelicans, sea lions, and – owing to an active volcano — not much of anything else.
That all changed this week when an expedition discovered a Giant Tortoise slowly lumbering around Fernandina’s volcanic bluffs, which was all the more surprising considering the long-feared-extinct-species was last spotted here in 1906.
“The emotion I feel is indescribable,” said Wacho Tapia, the director of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, of his 29-year-quest to conserve this critically-endangered species. “To find a living tortoise on Fernandina Island is perhaps the most important find of the century.”
The next step will be confirming that this female, who is also be believed to be about a century old, is actually from Fernandina Island. Ancient as she sounds, this centenarian is really just middle-aged in Giant Tortoise years, considering the animals can live to be 200 years old.
Researchers — encouraged by scat and other signs of other Giant Tortoise in the area — are already plotting a follow-up expedition in the hopes that this old girl wasn’t living alone.
In the meantime, the tortoise has been transported to a breeding center on nearby Santa Cruz Island. According to the Galapagos Conservancy, 7,000 tortoises from around the archipelago — including 14 from another critically-endangered population discovered on nearby Espanola Island — have been reared in captivity and released into the wild owing to these conservation efforts.
— GalapagosConservancy (@SaveGalapagos) February 21, 2019
But despite the center’s glowing record, some people are upset the tortoise was transported from her natural environment. “You stole her freedom, and no rationalizations in this thread make that ok,” one user wrote on Twitter.
Another challenged the Galapagos Conservancy’s claim that the tortoise’s move would ensure survival in a world where food and water and grown scarce: “So I’m guessing the first century she survived on her own wasn’t proof to the contrary?”
What do you think? Should this critically-endangered tortoise have been left alone?
J. Swanson is a writer, traveler, and animal-enthusiast based in Seattle, an appropriately pet-crazed city where dog or cat ownership even outweighs the number of kids. When the weather permits, she likes to get outside and explore the rest of the Pacific Northwest, always with a coffee in hand.