We last heard of the Galapagos tortoise when Lonesome George died, or possibly when Darwin visited in some cases. The tortoises have been busy meantime, and produced offspring for the first time in a century. This echoes the Missouri pallid sturgeon we noted the other day. These long-lived creatures mature over a long period and suffer extinction when human influences cause their life styles to be incredibly inconvenienced.
The tortoise does lay many eggs to make up for other deficiencies in its habitat. This means that released animals have been able to breed (at 15 years, normally.) James Gibbs of New York State University writes in the Galapagos Conservancy blog that Pinzon Island could have 500 giant tortoise now. Not so giant, of course, as some just hatched! We must thank him for this insight into an island no one can normally visit.
The muyoyo trees give some shade to man and beast while the crotons are so colourful, they colour your clothes as you pass. The rest of the vegetation is important to the reptiles, but tears humans apart with its thorns. Luckily, humans rarely come, as the reserve thrives without their trespass. Every day for these visiting rangers begins with a climb from tents on the shore to a significant landmark, a giant cactus. An ID chip is injected into each tortoise's leg and data gathered, while population is estimated from the number sampled and resampled on 2 visits.
Tortoises create distinctive nests if you are in the know. Like marine turtles, the raised mound is visible, but this nest has the addition of tortoise dung and sun-hardened soil. It sound hollow when you
tock it. Old tortoises are treated in the blog with special pride. In one specimen, the shell is luminous, and her bones shine through in one specimen. For maybe 150 years, she had had a small territory on the island from which she trekked to lay eggs in red sandstone soil every year. In the centre of the island however is a large group of animals. Here, they had been fed cactus 2 years ago to avoid them eating rat poison. The rat eradication is the reason the hatchlings now survive, but the tortoise has a long memory.
300 tortoises were found on this visit, meaning 500 probably live on the slab of volcanic rock and scrub. From 1959, with many old individuals surviving the rat influx but no young ones, this means the population has tripled with the ratradication! Also on Pinzon are the disappearing vermilion flycatchers, plus I'm sure many obscure Galapagosians, providing interest for any modern Darwins lie waiting if we ever allow them in again, instead of all those old-time pirates and whalers who ate most of the tortoises.
According to us, the Floreana subspecies is on Isabella, so hopefully Pinzon is really Pinzon!