Turtle Theft

The Galapagos Islands.

This volcanic archipelago west of Ecuador are known for the vast number of unique species and Charles Darwin's evolutionary investigation. On October ninth, the islands were also home to turtle theft.

An estimated 123 Giant Tortoises, one of the island's most popular species, were stolen from a breeding facility on Isla Isabela on Tuesday according to the environmental ministry. These unique animals bring thousands of tourists to the area.

The incident is currently under investigation. If caught, the perpetrator(s) could face up to 10 years in jail. "They were all taken at once, 123 in all," local politician Washington Paredes told AFP. "It was a robbery." The politician added that the facility has little security. This includes no light sensors or cameras. "The turtles are just there. If somebody wants to go in at night and steal, they can," he said.

Sadly, these beautiful creatures are often targeted by wildlife poachers and traffickers. On June 26, stolen tortoises taken to Peru were recovered and returned to their home. These islands are 563 mi. west of the Republic of Ecuador. The numerous species were also subject to an exhaustive study by naturalist, geologist, and biologist Charles Darwin. This is where the evidence for his theory of evolution by natural selection was collected. In 1979, the archipelago was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Due to their isolated location, many of the species are endemic to this location. This means that they are not found anywhere else, being extinct from anywhere else they used to be found. Thirty percent of plants, eighty percent of land birds, and ninety-seven percent of reptiles only exist here. The Galapagos are only one of two places, the other being Aldabra, about 435 mi. east of the African country of Tanzania, where Giant Tortoises breed.

As sad as this robbery is, it is also impressive. Giant Tortoises can weigh up to 919 lbs. and have a lifespan of over 100 years in the wild. The oldest living captive specimen was reported to be 170 at the oldest.

These animals have adapted and evolved to best survive on each individual island, shell size and shape varying between populations. Islands with humid highlands see the larger tortoises with domed shells and shorter necks. Islands with dry lowlands see smaller tortoises with saddleback shells and longer necks.

Numbers had dropped from over 25,000 in the sixteenth century, only two centuries before Charles Darwin was born, to roughly only 3,000 in the 1970s, when The Galapagos were given World Heritage status. This decline is due to overexploitation of these creatures for oil and meat. It also includes habitat clearing for agriculture; and the introduction of non-native species, such as rats, goats, and pigs. Populations have become extinct on at least three islands due to human involvement. This includes the famous Lonesome George from Pinta Island.

Found by Hungarian malacologist József Vágvölgyi, Lonesome George was relocated to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz island. The Pinta Island tortoise was declared functionally extinct when eggs produced with females of a different subspecies wouldn't hatch, and George died in 2012 before producing offspring.

Only 10 subspecies of the original 15 are still surviving in the wild. Conservation organizations have released thousands of captive-bred tortoises onto the islands. Numbers have risen to an estimated 19,000 at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The species, as a whole, is still categorized as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Hopefully the stolen tortoises will be found and the perpetrators) will be punished appropriately.

What Can Americans Do?

To combat our own, growing list of endangered animals here in America, we can contribute to a greener world by using less single-use plastic. This includes using reusable bags and reusable bottles, among others. Stray single-use plastic bags and straws frequently end up in the ocean. Marine life frequently gets caught and tangled in this trash, or mistakes it for a tasty snack. For all of your sustainable, eco-promotional needs, please visit Custom Earth Promos.