Late last year, researcher James Gibbs found something on the Galapagos island of Pinzón that had been missing for over 100 years: Baby tortoises.
Gibbs and his team of researchers identified 10 baby tortoises during a survey of the island in December 2014. And, since the little guys are so hard to find, it’s a sure bet that there are more scuttling around somewhere on the island. “Given projection probabilities, I’m sure there were a hundred times more hatchlings out there,” said Gibbs in January.
The hatchlings represent a hopeful new era for the Galapagos tortoise, which remains perilously close to the edge of extinction. Tortoise populations across the islands have been steadily plummeting since the introduction of black and brown rats by sailors in the 1700s. Black rats infested Pinzón in the late 1800s and have been feasting on tortoise eggs ever since. The reptile has few predators and a naturally docile disposition, which made it easy prey for rats, hungry sailors and, eventually, oil producers.
In 1959, the newly-established Galapagos National Park Service and Charles Darwin Foundation reviewed the status of the species and found that 11 of its 14 original populations remained, most of which were endangered. Fewer than 200 old adults were found on Pinzón.
In addition to a general plan to restore the Galapagos tortoise populations, a campaign to eradicate the invasive rats was begun in 2012. Poison designed specifically for rats was air-dropped throughout the Galapagos and now, three years later, it would seem to have done its lethal job.
“The incredible eradication of rats on this island, done by the park service and others, has created the opportunity for the tortoises to breed for the first time,” Gibbs told The Dodo in January.
On his blog, Gibbs said the 10 young tortoises his team spotted are the first hatchlings to survive on Pinzón in more than 100 years. “This new bunch of ‘little guys’ is one of the important results of the rat eradication campaign,” Gibbs wrote, “tangible proof that with dedication, hard work, support, and heart, conservation efforts can effect positive change.”