Conservation of Giant Tortoise
Galapagos tortoises are some of the most emblematic animals worldwide. After decades of overhunting, long before the establishment of the Galapagos National Park in 1959, there was a drastic decrease in their populations. With species even becoming extinct. Currently, they are threatened due to climate change, invasive species, habitat fragmentation, and the introduction of novel pathogens. Galapagos tortoises play a fundamental role in maintaining healthy ecosystems within the archipelago, as well as contributing to the socioeconomic well- being of the local communities through tourism. In 2009, a multi-institutional collaboration between the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), Max Planck Institute for Animal Behaviour, Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), Saint Louis Zoo Institute for Conservation Medicine (ICM), Houston Zoo, and Galapagos Conservation Trust started a research and outreach project to ensure the conservation of giant tortoises in the Galapagos Islands. The program has five components:
1. Movement Ecology: We are working to determine the role that Galapagos tortoises play on the ecosystems of the archipelago. Through studying their movement patterns and making comparisons between species we are learning how the tortoises are interacting with their environments and how they are responding to changing habitat conditions.
2. Reproduction: The sex of a tortoise depends on the temperature of incubation, where warmer temperatures produce females. We are studying the impact of climate change on these species through nest monitoring and tracking hatchlings during their initial migrations.
3. Socio-ecosystem: From once being a source of food for whalers and pirates to being touristic “ambassadors,” tortoises are now part of the culture and identity of Galapagos. To ensure balance between tortoise conservation and human development, we aim to understand the possible conflicts in shared habitats such as farms and private land.
4. Health: We work towards a better understanding of the pathogens tortoises have, and how the interaction between domestic animals, humans, and wildlife species may create new challenges for the wellbeing of tortoises and their ecosystems. Tortoises may act as key indicators for environmental health status.
5. Education and outreach: We work to inspire the next generation of local conservation leaders through the field experiences and classroom activities with 11 school in Galápagos. Additionally, to facilitate deeper understanding of the secret lives of Galapagos tortoises, all of the tortoise tracking data is available at www.movebank.org.
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