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.

Weighing 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.

Hundreds 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.

Ships 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.

The 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.

By 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.

The 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.

What happened first?



Sailors took tortoises aboard ships.

The tortoise meat was used for soups and stews.

Tortoises were put onto their backs.

Settlers brought other animals to the islands.

Pigs had been all the sailors had to eat.

What happened soon after people brought animals to the islands?





Tortoise eggs were kept in safe containers.


Scientists took away as many animals as they could.


The animals ate the tortoises’ food and eggs.


The tortoises fought with the other animals.


The tortoises continued to wander freely.


When did people start to do something to save the tortoises?





in the 1500s


in the 1950s


in the early 1900s


in the 1960s


in the 1400s


What happens right after the tortoise eggs hatch?





The scientists take the tortoises back to their islands.


The scientists get rid of cats, dogs, and other animals.


The sailors use the tortoises for food.


The scientist raised the tortoises in special pens.


The scientist encouraged the villagers to help.


What happened last?





The tortoises began to disappear.


The number of tortoises began to grow.


Scientists took away other animals.


Tortoises were taken back to their home islands.


The number of tortoises began to decrease.