The tortoise was a common animal thriving in the Galapagos Island of Pinzon, Ecuador, but in the 18th century they were completely wiped out. Namely, in that century a docking ship with hungry rats ate all the eggs of the tortoise leading to a depletion of the tortoise population. This invasion of rats on the island made the existence of tortoise completely terminated.
The rats not only ate the tortoise eggs, but as well as the ones of other species thus impeding the natural structure of the island’s ecosystem. Naturally, there have been adult tortoise left on the island but the birth rates were so low that the chances of survival for a baby tortoise were minimal.
Due to the invasion of rats and also the frequent attacks of the larger species along with the inevitable destructive human activities the baby tortoise population did not exist in Pinzon for a century.
Fortunately, the human awareness about the importance of the animal life on the planet has risen and in the last decades there have been immense conservation efforts. Thanks to this today there are over 500 baby tortoises in Pinzon, and all of them were born and bred in the Island. However, the unwelcomed visitors, the rats, had to be exterminated by air-dropped rat poison in 2012. This has prevented any possible destruction of the tortoise eggs thanks to which they managed to hatch and become adult tortoises living and breeding on the island, their natural habitat.
Rats Had to be Terminated
In the past there have been other conservation efforts like the ones in the 1960s. In that time the biologists developed a restoration project in order to save the remaining egg specimens on the island. They collected around 100 remaining eggs and brought them on another island to increase the chances of hatching. After five years the tortoises were brought on the island so that they can naturally hatch their own eggs, but the restoration project did not go well due to the presence of rats. These rodents again ate all their eggs leaving no chance for another generation of this population. Therefore, the only logical solution was eradication of rats.
In 2012, the rat eradication of rats has started under the control of biologists and the park service. They were targeting only the rats leaving the other species on the island intact. The eradication was done by dropping poison from helicopters all over the Island and very soon these pests were gone.
One of the scientists that participated in this eradication plan was researcher James Gibbs who stated the following, quote:
“I’m amazed that the tortoises gave us the opportunity to make up for our mistakes after so long. The incredible eradication of rats on this island, done by the park service and others, has created the opportunity for the tortoises to breed for the first time.”
James Gibbs with his team visited the island in December 2014 to check on the current situation on the island, and they were amazed by the successful restoration progress. In the first part of the Island they found 10 new hatchlings slowly crawling across the path. The natural order of the island’s ecosystem slowly but surely got restored.
When Gibbs and his team left the island the same year, they managed to discover around 300 wild-born baby tortoises. They were highly pleased with the results stating the following, quote:
“This is the first time they’ve bred in the wild in more than a century. I’m sure there were a hundred times more hatchlings out there as the mothers tried very hard to protect them from predators.”
Nowadays it is believed that there are over 500 tortoises thriving on the island and the number gets higher day by day. The menace that the rats have brought on the island has been eradicated and the tortoises could continue their existence. Unfortunately, not only the rats but as well as the human activities on the island contributed to the eradication of the tortoises on the island. Fortunately, that mistake has been corrected and the tortoise can live again on the island without the threat of being extinguished.
Saving the Giant Fernandina Tortoise
In the Island of Fernandina, another specie of tortoise got extinct, the Giant Fernandina tortoise. It was believed that this tortoise was extinct for over 100 years. The last one of this specie was spotted in 1906; luckily this was not the last one as the team of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI) found an adult female on the island. The tortoise was crawling slowly ion the island and the researchers believe that it may be more than a century old. So, if there is one, there is high possibility that there are others hiding in other remote areas of the Island.
According to the director of the Galapagos National Park, Danny Rueda: “This encourages us to strengthen our search plans to find other (tortoises), which will allow us to start a breeding program in captivity to recover this specie.”