We’re all aware of Galapagos tortoises, huge, ponderous reptiles that live for what seems like forever. Recently though, researchers came to the realization that the island of Santa Cruz, in the center of the Galapagos Archipelago is home to not one but two distinct tortoise species.
For a long time scientists have assumed that there was only one species, the Western Santa Cruz Tortoise, with a population of a few thousand. The naming of the new species, Chelonoidis donfaustoi, or the Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise, which only has a population of a few hundred, will bring attention to this species and allow for more research.
So far we don’t know a lot about this species, and more research is needed to determine what kinds of threats the face, its distribution, actual population, and where they nest. It is likely that their numbers aren’t as high as they should be, as is the case with tortoises throughout the Galapagos Archipelago.
Human habitation and other actions have reduced tortoise numbers significantly, but scientists and park rangers have been working tirelessly to shore those numbers back up to historical levels, allowing for the best gene pool possible.
Breeding programs for Galapagos tortoises are rarely successful, even in the best zoos. In fact, the new species’ is named for a local ranger, known as “Don Fausto,” or Fausto Llerena Sánchez, who has spent over forty years working with tortoises. Though years of patience and study, he has managed to run the most successful breeding program in the world, conveniently right in the tortoises’ back yard.
Thanks to Don Fausto, and to the naming of the new species, those tortoises have a better chance of recovering to historic numbers. As we study the Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise in more depth, we can figure out the best way to help preserve the species.