September 30, 2015
- as seen by -Paul P. Calle
Wallowing in a mud pool in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galápagos archipelago, this Galápagos tortoise (Chelonoidis porteri) is the picture of contentment. Whether to control biting insects such as ticks, or for thermoregulation [as heard in “The Hippopotamus” one of Flanders and Swann’s best-known songs: “Mud, mud, glorious mud, Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood, So follow me follow, down to the hollow, And there let me wallow in glorious mud”], the tortoises clearly enjoy their time in the spa.
One of the world’s most distinctive and recognizable species, and emblematic of the Galápagos Islands, these tortoises are threatened throughout the archipelago. They have become endangered due to human overconsumption by whalers and early settlers, habitat destruction, and invasive species that consume eggs and hatchlings, and compete with them for food resources. Extensive control programs for invasive species, habitat protection, and restoration have helped stabilize wild populations. Additionally, releasing tortoises from highly successful captive breeding and head-starting programs conducted at the Charles Darwin Foundation, in partnership with the Galápagos National Park Directorate on Santa Cruz Island and the El Centro de Crianza de Tortugas on Isla Isabella, are augmenting the wild populations and helping these magnificent tortoise populations recover.