Friends for Lonesome George | November 6th, 2008

Friends for Lonesome George

Our sister organisation, Galapagos Conservation Trust, along with the British Chelonia Group, are raising funds to bring tortoises back to Pinta. George is the last survivor of the Pinta tortoise, but he is closely related to the Espanola tortoise which it is thought would be well adapted to survive on Pinta. The captive breeding programme for Espanola tortoises has been so successful that they are now able to contemplate introducing them to Pinta. Without tortoises the vegetation on Pinta will develop very differently which may affect other species such as birds or invertebrates, which may in one way or another benefit from the presence of tortoises. For example some finches are known to be adept at finding ticks on tortoises and the tortoises actually help them to do so.

The plan is to relocate 120 tortoises each year until there is a viable breeding population. It will obviously be many years before the results of the programme are known as Galapagos tortoises take 20-25 years to reach sexual maturity, so this is definitely a long term project. The tortoises will be electronically tagged so that they can be tracked and their impact on the vegetation and other wildlife studied. This is the first such programme where a substitute species has been used in this way and it will be interesting to see what the results are.

Since Pinta lost its last tortoise, with the transfer of Lonesome George to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz in 1971, the island has been without a major herbivore to keep the balance of its vegetation in check.