Giant tortoise brought back from the brink of extinction

Numbers of the Espanola giant Galapagos tortoises have grown from 15 to over 1,000

Conservationists have brought a giant tortoise back from the brink of extinction – 50 years after the population had declined to just 15.

According to a study published in journal PLOS One, the population of the giant tortoises on Español is “secure” following the efforts of conservationists and the Galapagos National Park Service and now numbers more than 1,000.

The recovery of the giant Galapagos tortoise population comes some 40 years after the first captive-bred tortoises were reintroduced to the island.

This was the start of the study, which marked and repeatedly captured the animals for measurement and monitoring purposes by the teams at the Galapagos National Park Service, the Charles Darwin Foundation and visiting scientists.

 

James P Gibbs, lead author of the study and a professor at the State University of New York’s Science and Forestry, said: “The global population was down to just 15 tortoises by the 1960s. Now there are some 1,000 tortoises breeding on their own. The population is secure.

“It’s a rare example of how biologists and managers can collaborate to recover a species from the brink of extinction,” he said.

Ecological restoration of the island is the next step for the conservationists, as the tortoise population is not likely to increase until the island recovers from the effects of feral goats that were introduced to the island in the 1800s.

The goats, now eradicated, devoured much of the island’s vegetation essential to the tortoises’ diets in a relatively short space of time, which has had lasting effects on the island’s ecosystem.

“This is a miraculous conservation success accomplished by the Galapagos National Park Service, but there is yet more work to fully recover the ecosystem upon which the tortoises and other rare species depend,” Professor Gibbs said.

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