The Galapagos Islands are in the Pacific Ocean, off the western coast
of South America. They are a rocky,
lonely spot, but they are also one of the most unusual places in the
world. One reason is that they are the home of some of the last giant
tortoises left on earth.
hundreds of pounds, these tortoises, or land turtles, wander slowly around
the rocks and sand of the islands. Strangely, each of these islands
has its own particular kinds of tortoises. There are seven different
kinds of tortoises on the eight islands, each kind being slightly different
from the other.
of years ago, thousands of tortoises wandered around these islands.
However, all that changed when people started landing there. When
people first arrived in 1535, their ships had no refrigerators. This
meant that fresh food was always a problem for the sailors on board.
The giant tortoises provided a solution to this problem.
would anchor off the islands, and crews would row ashore and seize as many
tortoises as they could. Once the animals were aboard the ship, the
sailors would roll the tortoises onto their backs. The tortoises were
completely helpless once on their backs, so they could only lie there until
used for soups and stews. Almost 100,000 tortoises were carried off
in this way.
tortoises faced other problems, too. Soon after the first ships,
settlers arrived bringing pigs, goats, donkeys,
dogs and cats. All of these animals ruined life for the
tortoises. Donkey and goats ate all the plants that the tortoises
usually fed on, while the pigs. Dogs and cats consumed thousands of baby
tortoises each year. Within a few years, it was hard to find any tortoise
eggs-or even any baby tortoises.
the early 1900s, people began to worry that the last of the tortoises would
soon die out. No one, however, seemed to care enough to do anything about
the problem. More and more tortoises disappeared, even though sailors no
longer needed them for food. For another fifty years, this situation
continued. Finally, in the 1950s, scientist decided that something
must be done.
first part of their plan was to get rid of as many cats, dogs and other
animals as they could. Next, they tried to make sure that more baby
tortoises would be born. To do this, they started looking for wild
tortoise eggs. They gathered the eggs and put them in safe
containers. When the eggs hatched, the scientists raised the
tortoises in special pens. Both the eggs and tortoises were numbered so
that the scientists knew exactly which kinds of tortoises they had-and
which island they came from. Once the tortoises were old enough and
big enough to take care of themselves, the scientists took them back to
their islands and set them loose. This slow, hard work continues
today, and, thanks to it, the number of tortoises is now increasing every
year. Perhaps these wonderful animals will not disappear after all.