Lonesome George and Other Famous Creatures of the Galapagos

Lonesome George and Other Famous Creatures of the Galapagos

Lonesome George, the last surviving Pinta Island Giant Tortoise, died of a heart attack on the 25th of June, 2012. He was over a hundred years old. As the last member of the Pinta Island tortoise – a subspecies of the Galapagos tortoise – Lonesome George was mourned the world over. With his death, an entire subspecies became extinct, which is a sad reminder of the perilous effects of human action and environment degradation.

The famous Galapagos Islands, an archipelago of volcanic islands off the west coast of Ecuador, were the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking theory of evolution. Separated off the mainland for thousands of years, the unique geography of the islands led to the rise of many endemic species of animals, such as the Marine iguana and the Galapagos tortoise. These animals developed specific physiological characteristics to aid their survival in the harshness of the islands’ environment. For instance, in the absence of an apex predator, the Galapagos tortoise grew up to over 100kgs, while the lack of food sources led the Marine iguana to develop deep sea diving abilities.

Threats and Conservation Status

The Galapagos Islands have been under constant threat since the beginning of the 18th century. Domestic species of goats, birds, pigs, and plants introduced by human settlers are the primary threat to the island’s endemic species. In the absence of a predator, these introduced species have decimated the native animal species and eroded their food supply and habitats. It wasn’t until 1959 that serious actions for conserving the flora and fauna of the islands was taken when the Ecuador government declared 97.5% of the islands to be a restricted National Park.

Today, human settlement on the islands is limited to a few pockets. Tourism is still a major source of revenue, however, and there is an increasing strain on the environment due to tourist activities. Consequently, many native species of the islands are near extinction or severely endangered.

Extinct Species of the Galapagos Islands

The introduction of new non-native animals to the islands has played havoc with the native populations. According to a report in Global Change Biology, more than 45 species native to the islands have become extinct or face extinction due to human actions. Lonesome George, a Pinta Island tortoise, is just one such example. Some other major extinct Galapagos species are:

  1. Darwin’s Rice Rat
    2. Indefatigable Galapagos Mouse
    3. Darwin’s Ground Finch

This list also includes many species of mangroves and native plants. Competition from invasive species, over-fishing, and destruction of native habitats are some of the major reasons for these extinctions.

Future Conservation Status

There is a bright silver lining to the clouds, however. The intense conservation efforts of the Ecuador government over the past half century have paid rich dividends. Over the past couple of decades, several species of animals, such as the Marine iguana, Galapagos land iguana, and Galapagos tortoise have been removed from the list of endangered species. The Ecuador government has declared the 70,000 square kilometers of ocean around the islands to be a marine reserve, which has drastically reduced over-fishing and replenished the food supply for native species. Efforts have been made to remove invasive species introduced by human settlers as well.

Today, the islands are a major tourist attraction. While species such as the Galapagos tortoise and Marine iguana are still vulnerable, there numbers have never been higher. From the Galapagos penguin to the Galapagos sea lions, the islands are teeming with life!

If you’re interested in visiting the Galapagos Islands and seeing all the wild and wonderful creatures that the region has to offer, speak to The Ultimate Travel Company who have experts that can help you plan the perfect holiday,

 

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