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Conservancy achieves incredible milestone with release of 'ecosystem engineer' tortoises: 'We need to remain vigilant'

"We will continue to closely monitor the situation."

"We will continue to closely monitor the situation."

Photo Credit: Galapagos Conservancy

In fantastic news for the survival of historic species on the Galapagos Islands, 136 juvenile tortoises have been repatriated following conservation efforts.

According to the Galapagos Conservancy, the tortoises aged between five and nine years old reached the perfect condition to be released onto the land in January 2024, where they will help to restore the island's ecological balance and boost biodiversity.

After being born and raised in captivity at the Arnaldo Tupiza Chamaidan Breeding and Rearing Center, the tortoises were transported by helicopter to their new home near Isabela Island's Cerro Azul volcano. 

All tortoises were microchipped so conservationists can study their progress over the coming years. As Jorge Carrión, director of conservation for the Galapagos Conservancy, observed, "We need to remain vigilant because this species is under threat from invasive species. Therefore, we will continue to closely monitor the situation."

The reptiles will act as "ecosystem engineers," devouring plants to avoid overgrowth and helping to disperse seeds. The Galapagos Conservancy says each tortoise can eat 500 pounds of vegetation annually, keeping a delicate ecosystem in balance

A census completed between January and December 2023 by park rangers revised the estimated population of Chelonoidis vicina tortoises on the Galapagos Islands to 5,275 individuals around the Cerro Azul volcano, with a further 704 recorded at Sierra Negra. The census also counted 461 Chelonoidis guntheri tortoises. 

This follows good news from 2021, when it was confirmed that a giant tortoise found in 2019 was from a species thought to be extinct for 112 years.

Restoration of animal species is occurring in the United States, too. Gray wolves have been reintroduced in Colorado, while bison have returned to tribal lands in Montana. 

While such efforts are vital in the survival of unique endangered species, the impact these returning animals have on other wildlife can be profound, too. The wolves in Colorado will help to keep the deer population in check and prevent overeating of flora, while the bison in Montana have encouraged the return of formerly native animals, including the black-footed ferret and the swift fox. 

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