Galapagos Giant Tortoise

The Galapagos Giant Tortoise - Repopulated and Thriving

The Galapagos Tortoise is the most famous animal in the Galapagos Islands and rightly so.  The Galapagos Islands were named after their giant tortoises; the old Spanish word galapago meant saddle, a term early explorers used for the tortoises due to the shape of their shells

The tortoise breeding programme in the Galapagos Islands has been extremely successful in repopulating the very endangered tortoise community in the islands. Today, around 20,000 tortoises roam the islands. In 1959 when the islands were declared a national park, there were only around 5000 tortoises remaining. The majority of their subspecies were also considered to be endangered due to their small population. You can visit the breeding stations in Santa Cruz Island, Isabela Island and San Cristóbal Island to learn more about conservation efforts to help save these vulnerable creatures. There are currently 12 sub-species in the Galapagos Archipelago.

Species Protection

The Galapagos giant tortoise can now be found on many islands in large numbers, however, they are not always in areas accessible to visitors. Tortoises can be found in the following islands:

  • Isabela Island – 5 Subspecies (also seen at the breeding station, at Campo Duro and en route to the wall of tears)
  • Fernandina Island – 1 Subspecies
  • Pinzón Island – 1 Subspecies (Repopulated)
  • Floreana Island – 1 Subspecies (Repopulated)
  • Santa Cruz Island – 1 Subspecies (Repopulated)
  • Santiago Island – 1 Subspecies (Repopulated)
  • Española Island – 1 Subspecies (Repopulated)
  • San Cristóbal – 1 Subspecies

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a close up picture of the Galapagos Giant tortoise

Habitat and Diet

The Galapagos Giant Tortoise can weigh up to 250 Kilo and measure up to 130 cm in length. They only become sexually active from age 20 to 30 years old onwards and can live up to 175 years old. Males have a concaved abdominal walls and they are comparatively larger than the females.

The Galapagos giant tortoises are the gardeners of the Galapagos Islands. Among other things, they also really like the leaves and fruits of the Opuntia as well as fruit like tomatoes. While consuming fruits, they eat it whole together with its seeds. They then excrete the seeds, which contributes to the spread of different plants in a larger area.

The shape of the tortoiseshell is largely influenced by its environment. Giant tortoises with dome-shaped shells live on large islands with lush vegetations in higher elevations. They feed on grass from the ground. Tortoise with saddle-shaped shells tends to be able to bend better than others. They live mainly in areas with dry vegetation and on smaller islands. They often have to stretch their neck to bite off leaves from trees and plants.  

Advice for visitors:

The Highlands at Santa Cruz island is a great place to get a good view of the Galapagos giant tortoise. The tortoises roam freely in the farmland and you are allowed to visit this area with a nature guide. To plan your trip better, check out our Galapagos Islands monthly animal activities poster.

A giant tortoise roams through the field in Santa Cruz

Advice for visitors:

The Highlands at Santa Cruz island is a great place to get a good view of the Galapagos giant tortoise. The tortoises roam freely in the farmland and you are allowed to visit this area with a nature guide. To plan your trip better, check out our Galapagos Islands monthly animal activities poster.

✪ Galapagos Islands Tours ✪

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Wittmer Statue on Floreana Island

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Breath-taking Panoramic view

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