Lucky Day #10,000 (confetti & balloons!): In the town of Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz in the Galapagos archipelago lives the Charles Darwin Research Station.
The Station is dedicated to conserving the unique marine and terrestrial ecosystems of the Galapagos, and it’s open for the public to learn more about their work.
Many visitors are also hoping to meet some of the Islands’ most famous residents.
[Unrelated Side Story, noted so you can skip ahead if I bore you (how dare you, get back here): When I worked as a zookeeper intern at the Oakland Zoo, the hilly Galapagos tortoise enclosure was on my string. We had one particularly insatiable, old-man perv tortoise who would skirt-chase the females constantly. One afternoon I was enjoying lunch outside while watching the world’s slowest high-speed chase. The Old Man actually caught up to one poor gal not concentrating on her defense and mounted up (Lunch AND a show!)… but because they were both headed uphill on a really steep incline… he slooowly started to tip over backwards, tortoise boner waving skyward for all the visiting schoolchildren to see (“What’s happening, mommy, I’m scared!”).
Needless to say, lunch was over. It took THREE zookeepers an hour to flip Perv Tortoise back over, appendages flailing. Meanwhile, the females gathered on the hillside and laughed. The moral of the story is clear: The Universe doesn’t like pervs. (And perhaps, secondarily, never mount your woman uphill?)]
As part of the breeding conservation program, the Station has tortoises all the way from tiny baby…
… to giant, 90+yr old adults.
Mr. M & I were able to meet Lonesome George, the last existing tortoise of the Isla Pinta subspecies. When he died last June 2012, he was supposedly 100 years old and the rarest creature on earth.
The tortoises were hunted for meat back in Darwin’s day, and today they’re threatened by non-native feral species like dogs, pigs, and even cats. Even in one of the most heavily protected environments in the world, the endangered Galapagos Tortoises number only 15,000 individuals in the wild.
The Galapagos were named after these very tortoises… the Spanish word for tortoise is (oh, you got it…) galápago! But even on Isla Santa Cruz, there were plenty of other species vying for our attention.
From the town of Puerto Ayora, we took a bus ride into the interior of the island to search for a few of these endangered wild tortoises. We ended up finding a pretty cool cave on the hike….
…and, soon thereafter, wild tortoises!!
I did ponder that maybe a picture of poop might be inappropriate, but considering I’ve already used the phrase “tortoise boner,” I think we’re safe. (I should probably be Very Afraid of what ‘popular search terms’ will lead people to this post…)
The hike ended at a little way station. The proprietor invited us in for some mate tea & plantains and told us about the work he did to make sure the tortoises were protected from local predators. It all felt very “Tortugas in the Mist.”
Almost ten years after working with Galapagos Tortoises in captivity, it was spectacular to see them running wild. (Or at least walking verrry slowly.) The Charles Darwin Foundation does a wonderful job helping to conserve their ecosystem, but it’s still horrific to think that the Pinta subspecies has gone extinct in the three years since we visited. So much of this amazing world in which we live is slipping through our fingers.
These guys are worth hanging on to, don’t you think?
**There’s more Galapagos Fun back in the archives… I’m generally too antsy to write about our trips in chronological order. Too easy. ;) **