First Breeding Center tortoises returned to native home after 51 years


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Nov 18, 2011
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First Breeding Center tortoises returned to native home after 51 years - February 22, 2016, Content based on a press release from the Galapagos National Park Directorate

Five male tortoises that lived at the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center on Santa Cruz Island for the past 51 years have been returned to the wild in an area known as Cerro Gallina on the western side of Santa Cruz. Genetic studies over the past decade, which identified the origin of these tortoises, provided the knowledge required for the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), in collaboration with Galapagos Conservancy, to return them to their natural environment as part of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI).

Park ranger Feddy Villalba, head of the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center, explained that the five tortoises are all adult males of the species Chelonoidis porteri, the Western Santa Cruz Tortoise. Before restoring them to their natural habitat, park rangers and scientists recorded their measurements and health status. The ages of these individuals are estimated at from 70 to more than 100 years.

Due to the weight of the tortoises, which range from 350 to 600 lbs, four trips by helicopter were required to transfer all five tortoises. Radio telemetry tags were attached to two of the tortoises; they will be monitored over the next 10 years to track their movements and to determine the success of their reintegration after so many years in captivity. During the first few hours in their new habitat, the tortoises began to feed and move in accordance with their natural instincts.

Washington Tapia, scientific advisor to the GNPD and now working for GC as Director of the GTRI, said that the tortoises were returned to the GNPD when the Breeding Center was first established in the second half of the 1960s; the tortoises had been living with families and in institutions as pets. The tortoises remained in captivity for five decades as their species was unknown, preventing their return to the wild.

Tapia, a former GNPD ranger, indicated that the genetic studies carried out by specialists from Yale University contributed not only to knowing the genetics of wild tortoise populations, but were also important in identifying the origin of tortoises in captivity, both in Galapagos and mainland Ecuador — as well as other parts of the world. “The results have helped us to complete the genetic map of Galapagos tortoises,” Tapia stated.

GNPD Director Walter Bustos said that the Tortoise Breeding Centers are the best tool to ensure the recovery of giant tortoise populations that were on the verge of extinction. “Tortoises that are returned to their habitat fulfill their essential role as ecosystem engineers and contribute to the restoration of the environment.”

Grandpa Turtle 144

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5 Year Member
Apr 3, 2013
Here in AZ we cannt return desert torts to the wild after captivity . Aren't they worried about the same problems ? Or the goiter problem ?