40 years ago the first Giant Tortoise born in captivity was reintroduced on the Galapagos island of Española by the Galapagos National Park Service. The population of the endangered tortoise had dropped to just a few dozens. However, today the island is teeming with Giant tortoise which are reproducing and also helping to restore native cacti by spreading seeds. The cacti had been grazed to extinction when goats were brought to the island in the late 19th century.
James P. Gibbs, a professor of vertebrate conservation biology at ESF and lead author of the paper published in the journal PLOS ONE, “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.”
The population of the endangered giant tortoises which had precariously dropped to just over a dozen has recovered and stands out as a true story of success and hope in conservation.
It is some 40 years since the first tortoise which were bred in captivity were re- introduced in the island. The Giant Tortoises were also restoring the ecological damage caused by feral goats which were introduced in the island in the late 19th century.
Another side of the story was while the Tortoise population was stable; it is not likely to increase till the landscape recovers from the extensive damage caused by the now eradicated goats. The goats had eaten up all the grassy vegetation and when they were removed, led to growth of more shrubs and small trees which hindered the growth of the cactus, a vital piece of the tortoise’s diet.
Gibbs added, “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.”