As the species’ namesake reflects, this is a hugely important discovery for the conservation of the tortoise species in the Galapagos Islands. Now that there is hard scientific data that distinguishes this species from the other giant tortoise populations in the Galapagos Islands, the National Park can start taking steps to understand it and learn how to best protect it.
For years, during the 20th century and before, tortoises faced hunting by both invasive species and greedy whalers. Since they can live for months or sometimes years without food, whalers would take the live tortoises and store them in the hulls of their ships until they were ready to prepare them. Tortoises also became unfortunate victims of the invasive rats and goats that were introduced to the Galapagos Islands.
Now, the National Park has worked hard to get rid of these invasive species and protect the tortoises from whalers. However, in some cases, this response was too little, too late. For example, in 2012, despite persistent, yet unsuccessful breeding efforts, the iconic Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island tortoises, died, after no suitable mates could be found to carry on his genes. Interestingly, Don Fausto was in fact George’s long-time caretaker as well. Hopefully, George’s plight will be the last case of tortoise extinction in the Galapagos.
After decades of working with the Conservancy and National Park, Caccone is optimistic that they will be able to protect this new species. She reflects on the repopulation project that occurred with the Española species of tortoise – when the National Park began their location and breeding program in 1972, there were only 12 adult tortoises left, due to the effects of the invasive rats. Now, just 40 years later, there are over 1,000 Española tortoises, with the first generations beginning to be re-introduced to the wild and reaching sexual maturity. They’ve even begun to reproduce independently, notes Caccone.
If this is a measure of what their dedication and care is capable of achieving, then she feels that the future is bright for other Galapagos species. “I am an optimist by nature,” she says. “If we can find new giant, vertebrate species in the Galapagos, we are just getting it all started. So I think there is a lot of work to do. And we can do something to curb some of the extinctions that we are responsible for.”
Article writen by Brian Bayer November 2015..