Day 3: Saving the Galápagos giant tortoise

The success story on Santa Cruz

A Galápagos giant tortoise rests in a small pond (KPRC)

On our third day in the Galápagos Islands, we traveled to the highlands for our first look at some of the most majestic creatures on the planet. Galápagos giant tortoises make their home half the year in a higher elevation. These areas provide water in the dry season for the tortoises.

A Galápagos giant tortoise on the move (KPRC)

It’s cool, damp and cloudy at the Montemar Eco-Villas. What is striking is how many tortoises there are here. They are literally everywhere you turn. It’s estimated there are 20,000 roaming the island of Santa Cruz. We found 38 soaking in one small pond.

Dozens of giant tortoises rest in a small pond (KPRC)

Like the sea turtle program we learned about on day 2, the Houston Zoo provides conservation grants along with an array of experience to a team working with giant tortoises in the Galápagos Islands.

Representatives from the Houston Zoo and KPRC 2 talking with conservation partners on the third day of our trip to the islands (KPRC)

This work is vital to keep the numbers growing of this endangered reptile. Early explorers would eat turtle meat and sell the shells. There are many species of the giant tortoise that are extinct.

Freddie Cabrera has lived here all his life. For more than a decade, he’s studied the health of the tortoises through the Galápagos Tortoise Ecology Movement Program. The giant tortoises migrate every year. During the rainy months of January through June, the tortoises lives closer to the beach. July through December, they are in the highlands. What Cabrera discovered using GPS is these creatures travel in the same path every year.

Photos taken during the KPRC 2 - Houston Zoo trip to the Galápagos Islands in 2022 (KPRC)
Tracking devices are attached to thousands of giant tortoises on the islands so researchers can gather important data needed to help save them (KPRC)

Many times their feet land in the exact same spot! And this is one of the problems giant tortoises are facing. The loss of habitat through ranching and construction is altering what these tortoises have known their entire life which is a long time. Giant tortoises can live 150 years, and probably more. Cabrera presents his findings on tortoise migration to ranchers and the local government making sure the lives of the tortoises are not affected. One of the success stories on the Galápagos is how the government works with scientists like Cabrera to ensure the best outcome for these creatures.

Teens from the Eco-program we discussed in day 2′s blog work with Cabrera and learn from his vast experience. This work empowers them to take action in their community.

Photos taken during the KPRC 2 - Houston Zoo trip to the Galápagos Islands in 2022 (KPRC)

On a personal note:

We walked several miles in the town of Manzanillo. Everywhere you looked you saw a tortoise. Some were young and small. But others were massive! Giant tortoises can grow five feet long with their shell measuring six feet from front, top, to back. The large ones weigh 500 to 600 pounds. We’re told the record is an 800-pound giant tortoise found living on a different Galápagos island.

Photos taken during the KPRC 2 - Houston Zoo trip to the Galápagos Islands in 2022 (KPRC)

It was also peaceful here. This land is mostly untouched with the tortoises free to move as they wish. They are social so you’ll see several together eating grass or leaves.

Galápagos giant tortoise (KPRC)

We go from the adults to the babies tomorrow. We’ll spend the day at the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center. Keep up with our journey at

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