Pinta is the northernmost of the larger Galapagos islands, and is named after one of the three ships that took part in Christopher Columbus’s first expedition to the Americas.
The island is an active shield volcano, with the last known eruption occurring in 1928. Although Pinta’s ecosystem has been heavily degraded by human activity, it is home to species including marine iguanas, Galapagos hawks, fur seals and swallow-tailed gulls. There are no tourist visitor sites on the island.
Galapagos fur seal
Pinta was a hideout for pirates during the 17th century and a stopping-off point for whalers in the 18th century, and thousands of Pinta giant tortoises were taken from the island, eaten by sailors on long sea journeys. The damage done to the island was compounded in 1959 when goats were introduced by fishermen. The goat population exploded and quickly devastated the island’s vegetation. In 1971 the last known Pinta giant tortoise, nicknamed ‘Lonesome George’, was taken into captivity and transferred to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz.
By 1999, goats had been completely eradicated from Pinta and the island began to recover, but the ecosystem was still missing its giant tortoises, a keystone species that has a major impact on its environment through grazing and dispersing seeds. Attempts to preserve the Pinta giant tortoise lineage by encouraging Lonesome George to mate with females from a genetically similar species were unsuccessful, and in 2012 he sadly passed away, the last of his kind.
But there is a twist in the tale. In 2007, DNA analysis of tortoises living on Wolf volcano on Isabela island revealed the presence of individuals with hybrid ancestry, likely descended from Pinta giant tortoises that had been brought to Isabela by sailors. Subsequent expeditions to Wolf have found tortoises with mixed ancestry from both the Pinta giant tortoise (Chelonoidis niger abingdonii) and the Floreana giant tortoise (C. N. niger, also extinct), and captive breeding programmes are now underway to restore genetically similar giant tortoises to both islands. There is also the tantalising possibility that there may still be a pure-bred Pinta tortoise somewhere on Isabela, though none have been found.
"Floreana is the sixth largest island in Galapagos, and used to be home to some of the most iconic species in the Archipelago."
We are supporting our partners to undertake one of the most complex eradication projects ever conducted on an inhabited tropical island, with the ultimate aim of reintroducing locally extinct species.