December 15, 2011

Wild Tortoises

We saw tortoises in a few places in our adventures on the island of Santa Cruz. Both in the Darwin Research Centre (which we'll cover another time) and roaming wild in the highlands of the island. Since 90% of the island is still designated as a park and not to be cultivated or interfered with, this gives the tortoises a good degree of freedom, and while you'd think that being a slow moving creature the size of a boulder would make you obvious as well, they do tend to blend in a bit at the roadside as you can see below.
Our group had a scheduled visit to a ranchers field which is particularly popular with these wild tortoises, to the extend that in an area of perhaps a few football fields we were fortunate enough to see at least 40 of these peaceful creatures going about their lives. There were a number of pools and wallows which they seemed to enjoy quite a bit as you can see below.
But they were also thick on the ground out in the open where they were placidly grazing and you could get right up to them. If they felt threatened they would emit a sighing hiss and slowly retract into their shells like the one pictured below is in the process of doing.
Tortoises were right at the top of my list of amazing things to see in the Galapagos and I was not in any way disappointed with our encounter. These gentle giants are breathtaking to see in the flesh and I feel incredibly fortunate that they are flourishing as well as they are for future generations to enjoy. They were heavily hunted by pirates and sailors back in the day, but careful conservation and a top-notch breeding program and helping to make them a modern success story.

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