Unabashed consumption by whalers, reckless pyromania on behalf of a single sailor, invasive animals that became the squanderers of precious resources: these are the unfortunate elements that led to the demise and extinction of the Floreana tortoise nearly 150 years ago. But just when we think certain things are irreversible in life, science fortunately has a way of showing us otherwise.
The distance between the two sites? Approximately 180 km. (110 mi.)
That’s A Long Way From Home
It has been determined that there is currently a species of Galapagos giant tortoise that genetically falls in line with the Floreana tortoise (c. elephantopus). Except they were found hundreds of kilometres north of Floreana Island, near Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island. What’s even more fantastic is that there might be purebread lines of this Floreana species still existing on Isabela.
How did they all get there, though? It’s thanks to historical records that scientists and historians have been able to speculate on the movement of Floreana tortoises. It’s possible that these might have ended up on Isabela after having been moved from Floreana by whalers and sailors. It’s even been speculated that they may have fallen off certain ships in transit and simply swam towards Isabela. Once on the island they made their way towards Wolf Volcano, where they made their new home and new friends, apparently.
Scientists managed to find a small number of hybrid tortoises over on Wolf Volcano and returned back in December 2008 to continue studying the tortoises found around this area. After extracting blood samples from 1,669 tortoises (which is estimated to be around 20% of the current tortoise population), scientists found that a small percentage of tortoises that were sampled did in fact exhibit signs of hybridization between Floreana tortoises and the native species of tortoises found on northern Isabela.
Where Do We Go From Here?
It is now firmly believed that there may be a Galapagos giant tortoise species living somewhere along the northern end of Isabela Island. The small percentage of tortoises sampled that exhibited Floreana tortoise genes were 84. This hybridisation happens to have occurred from a pure Floreana tortoise as one of their immediate parents. With 30 of the 84 having been determined to be less than 15 years old, the chances are high that pure Foreana tortoise are still situated around Wolf Volcano.
The greatest part of all is the history that Galapagos tortoises have had when it comes to captive breeding and repatriation. It’s very likely the Galapagos National Park will manage to begin their own rescue mission for bringing back the Floreana tortoise.
In the grand scheme of things, it would fit in perfectly with Project Floreana, an ambitious 5-year initiative that aims to restore the island as close as possible to its pristine condition, all while fostering a sustainable way of living for the current residents. It’s quite possible that bringing back the Floreana tortoise and integrating it into this plan may very well be reality more than just a dream.