Galapagos Day 4 - Lonesome George and San Cristobal!

Published: May 24th 2012
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1: Tortoises 16 secs
We woke up this morning and headed down to the dock to find a 7am water taxi that would take us to San Cristobal. We had seen ads for $40 round trip so that is what we were shooting for. Turns out those ads are to Isabela and not San Cristobal and there is only one boat that makes the trip at 7am in the morning and it was full. Bummer, we had woken up so early. Instead, we bought round trip tickets leaving at 2pm that afternoon, the next departure. We took our bags back to the hostal for the day.

After a poor imitation continental breakfast at a restaurant across the street from our favorite, we set off for the Charles Darwin Interpretation Center. This time we wanted to do the whole tour, which the sign at the entrance says it takes 1.5hrs to do.

We walked past the Van Straelen building that we had previously visited and followed signs to the turtles. There were a bunch of guided tours moving through the area so we knew we could pick up some cool facts by eavesdropping.

The main purpose of the tortoise area of the research center is to help bring back and improve different tourtoise populations. For example, on the island Espanola non-native invasive pigs, feral goats, and rats had almost completely wiped out the islands tortoise population. There were only 13 females and 1 male left of the entire species when researchers counted many years ago. So the Park Service brought the turtles to the research center during the 1970´s and held them there while they erradicated (or attempted to erradicate) the invasive animals. While Pigs&Company were being poisoned, shot, and put to their deaths, the Park Service continue to breed the tortoises. The babies are raised until they are 4 or 5 years old, at which point they no longer can be killed by their natural predators, and they can be released back on to the island with a high likelihood of living to an old age.

This type of tortoise breeding is being done for the populations of many of the Galapagos islands, so we could see many different species of young tortoises at the center. In some cases the researchers will go on to the islands, dig up nests, and bring the eggs to the research center so they can all hatch. A tortoise egg turns in to a male or female based on the temperature of incubation. Researchers can control sexes in populations fairly easily. A pretty nice card for scientists playing the God game.

After seeing the small turtles we made our way to Lonesome Georges pen. Lonesome George is the last remaining tortoise from the Pinyon Island species. He is estimated to be 94 years old and for the past 40ish years they have been trying to find him a mate to keep the species going. Currently he shares his pen with two females from the Wolf Volcano species on Isabela Island, so reasonably close to Pinyon. The females have laid eggs, but they have not been fertile, so it seems that they are not a close enough species match. The tour guides that we evasdropped in on were asked about artificial insemination, but they said that would be too expensive. What is a reasonable cost to save a species from extinction? It seemed to us like the Galapagos has a ton of money rolling in so they should be able to afford something like this?

From George´s pen we moved on to see a pen full of giant tortoises. These were tortoises the Galapagos Park Service claimed from people who had them as pets and such. They do not know which species the tortoises are descendants from so they are bound to live out another hundred plus years in captivity. Which at this point probably makes sense since they are used to being fed and cared for.

Next we saw a number of species of land iguanas from different islands. They had great coloration.

We made our way back to Hostal Darwin, grabbed our stuff, then to the dock to catch the L/P Frigate over to San Cristobal. The boat was small and cramped. Outside the sun cooked the passengers. Inside the cabin was uncomfortably hot and had no air. It was lose lose. We opted for inside and tried to sleep as the sweat dripped off our bodies. About an hour in to the ride, the boat ran over a sea turtle which broke the propeller (CRINGE). So we sat idle, beside Santa Fe Island while the crew fixed the prop. Up and running we continued the uncomfortable trip to San Cristobal.

We arrrived on the island close to dusk
Santa Fe IslandSanta Fe IslandSanta Fe Island

Where we hit a sea turtle and broke our prop
and were greeted by a bunch of sea lions each laying on their own stair in a staircase running to the water. We were pretty drained upon arriving, but went off in search of a cheap hostal. So much for the island being cheaper. We ended up at Luna Azul (blue moon) for $20 a night, just like in Puerto Ayora. After getting settled we walked in to town to see about a tour of the island. We found that every agency sells the same tour. One agency lost electricity so we went to another and booked a trip to Kicker Rock for Sunday since there were not enough people on the island wanting to to tomorrow, Saturday. And that wrapped up another awesome day in the Galapagos!

Additional photos below
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These tortoises were given back to the park service by people who had them as pets and from zoo´s around the world

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