The first thing we did on Santa Cruz was to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station. Many animals were kept in enclosures for breeding purposes, but some animals like various birds and marine iguanas were wild and hanging around the station. The marine iguanas are so oblivious to all other life that they like statues when they are basking in the sun – I thought they were fake at first. They look very much like small dragons. We also saw a Galapagos mockingbird, which was actually the gateway to Darwin’s theory, not the finches that so many textbooks reference.
In captivity, we saw two varieties of giant tortoises. The dome-shelled tortoises live in the greener highlands and feed on low-lying vegetation. The saddleback-shelled tortoises live in the drier areas, with less low-lying vegetation, so they had to evolve a shell to help them reach higher up for tall cactus plants that they feed on. A “galapago” is a type of Spanish saddle, which was used to describe this type of shell, giving the islands their name. Another cool piece of information that I learned is that Steven Spielberg came to the islands and used the facial appearance of the tortoises as inspiration for the character of E.T in his movie! In the station, some of the older tortoises had been kept as pets, so they have a poor chance of survival in the wild. The station had an enclosure of baby tortoises, that can’t be released until they are about at least 6 years old because they would be easy targets of predators. The station also had two male land iguanas kept in separate enclosures to prevent them from harming one another.
Also in at the Charles Darwin Research Station, was the vacant enclosure of Lonesome George. He was the last surviving giant tortoise of the species that came from Pinta Island, a small Galapagos island north of Santa Cruz. The staff at the center tried very hard to breed him with other tortoises so that eventually they would get a pure Pinta tortoise, genetically speaking. Unfortunately, he died in 2012, when was estimated to be over 100 years old.
– Vincent Evans-Lucy