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Pinzón Tortoises: The Age of Giants is Secure Once More

As Earth Day approaches, Island Conservation will share stories of hope and success in conservation.

Pinzón Giant Tortoises successfully hatch in the wild for the first time in over 150 years, providing hope for the future of the species.

The restoration of Pinzón and Plaza Sur Islands in the Galápagos is one of the most remarkable island restoration stories of modern history.

As far back as 1965, conservationists have been attempting to save the Pinzón Giant Tortoise from invasive rats through a captive breeding program, which aimed to get tortoises past the critical hatchling life stage to a “rat-proof” size before being released.

Challenge

While this was successful in increasing the tortoise population, the program depended on staffing and resources—which are not always available. It was also unsustainable because the invasive rats had been feeding on the eggs and hatchlings of the island-endemic Pinzón Giant Tortoise for over 150 years, leaving only an ageing population of tortoises to die off.

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Pinzon Giant Tortoises had to be raised in a captive breeding program leaving only the large, old tortoises on Pinzon Island. Credit: Gregg Howald/Island Conservation

Unless something was done to rid the islands of the rat, the cycle would continue.

Solution

In 2012, Island Conservation, Galápagos National Park, Charles Darwin Foundation, The Raptor Center, and partners removed invasive rats from Pinzón Island to restore suitable habitat for the tortoises and other native species.

Outcome

Extensive monitoring over the intervening years confirmed the islands are now rodent free, proving the intervention to be highly effective—today, Pinzón Tortoises are able to hatch and survive in the wild.

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Pinzon Giant Tortoises were able to successfully hatch on Pinzon Island for the first time in 150 years. Credit: Island Conservation

In July 2013, heralding an important step in Pinzón Tortoise recovery, hatchlings emerged from native Pinzón tortoise nests on the island and the Galápagos National Park successfully returned 118 hatchlings to their native island home.

In 2017, the once IUCN Red-listed “Extinct-in-the-Wild” Pinzon Tortoise was down-listed to “Vulnerable” as a result of timely conservation action.

Over time, these single-island endemic tortoises will grow into the giants of old.

Featured photo: Juvenile Pinzon Tortoises in Charles Darwin Research Station Breeding Center on Santa Cruz Island, Galápagos. Credit: Island Conservation

About Anton Nebbe

Anton is a public relations, communications, and change management specialist with two decades of experience in a range of industries. He is a journalist by trade, having earned his qualifications in South Africa and reported on the country's transition into democratic rule. Having grown up in a conservation-minded family in Africa, that passion has stayed with him and he is delighted to volunteer with Island Conservation.

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