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Repatriation of Galapagos Tortoises: An Unexpected Find in Peru

User Avatar Written by: Christopher Klassen
Giant tortoises of the Galapagos islands

The repatriation of Galapagos tortoises was a hot topic for the media last week when a total of 29 turtles (all of them endemic to the Galapagos and in danger of extinction) were discovered in Peru.

Before delving in, one must consider the fact that the enchanted isles have a magic and value to them that’s often equated with words such as: rare, incomparable, raw, and priceless. If you visit the Islands, take a look at the Galapagos BIG 15 you must see in your journey. So novel are the sights and sounds throughout the archipelago that we’re sometimes compelled to want to take a piece of them with us; if only as a souvenir or, at worst – as an object to sell. No matter the size or near-intangibility of the object (yes, we’re talking about grains of sand here), the Galapagos National Park fully forbids visitors to remove any and all objects that form a part of the archipelago, living or non-living. This somewhat universal desire to take things with us has, in recent years, led to some rather amusing tales of sneaky individuals and their somewhat peculiar methods of smuggling things out of the islands – specifically living ones, unfortunately. See the case of the Mexican who tried to take eleven endangered iguanas in his luggage or the German who tried to take four iguanas back home.

As of late, however, a rather unexpected mystery of smuggling things from the Galapagos popped up in the not-so-faraway country of Peru.

Repatriation of Galapagos Tortoises: Peru Semi-Accidentally Strikes Gold

It was Peru’s National Park Service (SERFOR) that found the box containing the smuggled turtles, which had all been wrapped and taped together. The box itself was on a bus bound from Tumbes (in the North) to Lima (in central Peru). In total, they managed to rescue 27, as two of them were found already dead in the box. The driver and the transportation company are currently under investigation.

repatriation of Galapagos tortoises

Galapagos tortoises are a huge tourist attraction for Ecuador but also a target for wildlife traffickers.

At the moment, a group of experts and park rangers from the Galapagos are on their way to Peru to collect information and coordinate legal action (in conjunction with SERFOR and the authorities) to help repatriate the tortoises. The Galapagos National Park stated that the species nor the sex of the tortoises can be identified until genetic tests are done. Only then will they be able to tell what island the tortoises were taken from and begin the repatriation of Galapagos tortoises back to Ecuador.



The discovery, on behalf of Peru’s SERFOR, was the result of an ongoing investigation of an alleged international mafia that had been dedicating itself to the trafficking of a number of endemic creatures from South America. The destination for the animals in this trafficking ring is a black-market in Europe.

repatriation of Galapagos tortoises

Giant tortoise from Southern Isabela island

In even better news, 190 juvenile giant tortoises that were bred in captivity have recently been released back into their home island of Santa Fe in the Galapagos. This is part of an ongoing project to help restore the native species of specific islands throughout the archipelago. Santa Fe Island is frequented by Yacht Isabela II during our Central Galapagos Itinerary that goes from Mondays to Fridays, and will surely give you a chance to see these newly released tortoises.