Hello tortoise enthusiasts,
We are getting closer and closer to seeing the first Galapagos giant tortoises step foot onto Pinta Island since Lonesome George left in 1972! This exciting step forward for conservation and the restoration of Pinta has been discussed, debated, and studied pretty much since that time.
Linda Cayot here. I first came to Galapagos in 1981 to study giant tortoises for my PhD - from Syracuse University (great to have another woman from the adjacent SUNY campus in Syracuse continuing on with tortoise work into the 21st century). Reviewing my journals from 1981 just before heading to Galapagos last week, I discovered that on my second day in Galapagos in March 1981, in a meeting with Bob Reynolds, the herpetologist of the Charles Darwin Research Station, we discussed the need to get tortoises back on Pinta. That was 29 years ago!!
Then in 1988, at the International Herpetology Workshop in Galapagos - it seemed like every work group ended up discussing what to do with Lonesome George and whether or not to put tortoises back on Pinta.
Over the past several years a group of us have been working toward this goal - so many people - Ole Hamann (Danish botanist who has worked on Pinta for decades), the folk of Project Isabela (Felipe Cruz, Karl Campbell, and others), Wacho Tapia of the Park, and on and on. A dream of many and a massive effort by even more.
When the Isabela Project was winding down at the start of this decade and a goat-free Pinta was a reality, the need for tortoises increased. They are the habitat engineers of Galapagos and important to the ecosystem in many ways - seed dispersal and in some cases germination, trampling and opening areas, and their constant eating of most species of forbs, grasses and shrubs. But ongoing genetics studies have not yet answered the question regarding which tortoises would be best for repopulating the island through release and reproduction.
In the meantime, Felipe Cruz suggested we sterilize the hybrid tortoises at the Tortoise Center and put them on Pinta to perform the role of the first habitat engineers post goat-eradication. Then we all got to work - Washington Tapia (Wacho) at the National Park, Joe Flanagan at Houston Zoo, me at Galapagos Conservancy, and James Gibbs at SUNY-ESF. Last fall, a group of veterinarians came down to sterilize the tortoises (Dr. Steve Divers of U of Georgia and Dr. Sam Rivera of Zoo Atlanta - along with Joe and some others). James started figuring out the monitoring part and Elizabeth joined in to do her Masters. Galapagos Conservancy participated in planning and to ensure critical funding and here we are.
May 2010 - I have been working to help achieve this goal for many years and next Monday it will be a reality. A dream come true. I can't wait.