Human beings have exploited the giant tortoises for hundreds of years; pirates, whalers, and even Charles Darwin's HMS Beagle crew took these animals as food, or harvested them for oil. Entire populations have been decimated, and some sub-species eradicated. Galapagos conservation programs aimed at restoring native populations have helped numbers rebound, though the tortoise still faces an uphill battle against invasive species like goats, donkeys, cats, rats, and dogs.
Reintroduction, breeding, and eradication programs set in motion in the mid-1960s have seen tortoise numbers on Espanola, Pinzon, Isabela and Pinta climb; more than 2,000 tortoises have been reintroduced to these islands, though Galapagos Conservancy recognizes that plenty of work is still to come.
Over a 10-year period, the project aims to accomplish these goals:
- restore tortoise populations, including those considered “extinct in the wild,” through a combination of in situ management, breeding and rearing tortoises where appropriate, and repopulation of an island where tortoises are extinct through the use of an analog (closely-related) species.
- evaluate habitat conditions and restore where necessary
- improve education/outreach in service of giant tortoise conservation
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Help Boost the Penguin Population
In 2013, Galapagos Conservancy launched a penguin re-population program that will run through 2014.
The Galapagos penguin is among the rarest and most endangered of penguin species. Limited nesting sights on the islands prevent the penguins from breeding and feeding properly, a problem Galapagos Conservancy is tackling by building new penguin nesting sites on a number of islands; whether or not these "penguin condos" encourage the animals to breed remains to be seen, but it is a fine example of the work the organization is doing to help protect endemic species.
The Galapagos Islands are the only place in the world where penguins live north of the equator, and the only place we can swim with them without freezing to death in five minutes.
From Galapagos Conservancy: "If you are interested in helping Dr. Boersma with her work, she is compiling a photo database and asking visitors to the islands to share their photos of Galapagos penguins, along with the date and location of the photo. From this photo database, her research team can determine when penguins are molting and when juveniles appear in the population."