Giant Tortoises Rebound from Near Extinction

“The famed giant tortoise of the Galapagos Islands has been brought back from the verge of extinction after its population dropped to only 15 by the 1960s. Captive breeding and conservation efforts have allowed that number to rebound to more than 1,000.

‘The population is secure. It’s a rare example of how biologists and managers can collaborate to recover a species from the brink of extinction,’ said James P. Gibbs, a biologist at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. He was lead author of a study that charted the growing success of the islands’ tortoises, published in the journal PLOS ONE.

But Gibbs cautions that the giant tortoise population is not likely to increase further on the island of Española until the landscape recovers from the damage inflicted by now-eradicated goats. After the imported goats devoured all the grassy vegetation and were removed from the island, more shrubs and small trees have grown. The report says the vegetation hinders both the growth of cactus, which is a vital piece of a tortoise’s diet, and the tortoises’ movement” (source).

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“Keeper Grant Kother measures a giant tortoise during the annual weigh-in at London Zoo. It was one of many facilities around the world that used captive breeding to increase the tortoise population” (from the Earthweek article, op. cit.; photo credit: Oli Scarff). The largest recorded individuals have reached weights of over 400 kilograms (880 lb) and lengths of 1.87 meters (6.1 ft) (Wikipedia: Galapagos tortoise)