Today we went to visit the Charles Darwin Research Center in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos!! Our Galapagense guide, Maritza, was wonderful, and could name every animal. Many of our ‘exhibits’ were actually just animals that hang out around the island a lot, like sea lions, crabs, and heron.
We also got to see where they kept the baby Giant Tortoises safe as they grew to two years of age so that they could be reintroduced into the wild and their numbers replenished. There were so many baby Giant Tortoises! We were informed that half of the $100 entrance fee to the Galapagos goes towards projects like this at the research center to help keep the native and endemic species safe on the islands. Native species means that they have come to their island of their own means and have likely lived there for awhile, while endemic species are the same as native species plus they have evolved to specially adapt to the Galapagos and have become a new species. Endemic species are only found one place in the world, and there are very very many of them in the Galapagos, such as the finches, the Galapagos Penguin, the Galapagos Shark, Blue Footed Boobies, Galapagos Crabs, and many more! We also saw the Giant Tortoises kept at the research center, and the cage where Lonesome George was kept, the last of his kind of Giant Tortoise. On Floreana Island we saw many more Giant Tortoises that the researchers are still trying to classify by which island they came from. We don’t know which island they were originally from because parents used to get Giant Tortoises for their kids as pets. Please don’t ask your parents for one! Well…it’s also illegal now, as you cannot take anything from the islands, but still! Conservation, including the extensive efforts at the research center, is very important to restoring the natural native and endemic species of the islands, and getting rid of the introduced species i.e. rats, wild dogs, wild cats, and guava trees.
Also at the research center, we saw land iguanas that are unique (endemic!) to the islands. The male and female land iguanas are kept apart by a fence, but during mating season they try to knock down the wall to continue their species. The mating program for the iguanas has been ended because it was so successful, they are no longer considered endangered. The iguanas are yellow, which they thought was because of their diet, but it isn’t, they still have no idea why they have the colors they do. They actually eat cactus and scrape off the larger spikes on the cactus with the pads of their feet so that they don’t get hurt too badly ingesting cactus.