giant tortoise galapagos

Photo by Jeff A. Goldberg

And now for some good news. Conservationists announced yesterday that the Espanola giant tortoise has been brought back from the edge of extinction. There were only 14 of them left on the island in the 1960s. Today there are around 1,000.

The Espanola tortoise population is estimated to have been between 5,000 and 10,000 before the arrival of humans in the archipelago. In the 18th and 19th centuries, buccaneers and whalers captured the animals for food, as they could be stacked in the holds of ships and live for up to a year without food or water. Settlers introduced goats in the early 20th century and they quickly took over, turning the once grassy island into a desert and decimating the cactus that is the staple of the tortoises’ diet.

The 14 surviving tortoises (and one male discovered at the San Diego Zoo) were sent to zoos around the world, where successful captive breeding programs were established. In the 1970s goats were eradicated from the island and tortoises began to be reintroduced.

According to the study published in the journal PLOS ONE, the tortoise population has gained enough of a foothold on the island that they can sustain themselves and human interference is no longer necessary.

Way to go, Science!