Happy World Turtle Day!

Today (23 May) is World Turtle Day! Established by American Tortoise Rescue (ATR) in 1990, World Turtle Day celebrates and raises awareness of turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world. ATR predict that globally, turtles and tortoises could come close to extinction within the next 50 years due to a whole range of factors. These include smuggling for the exotic food industry and illegal pet trade, habitat destruction and climate change.

Wildlife, Giant Tortoise © Christian Ziegler

The Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Giant tortoises are truly iconic to the Galapagos Islands, yet they are still under threat from a number of human and environmental factors. When humans first set foot on Galapagos in the 1600’s, giant tortoises were seen as an excellent source of food and exploitation by pirates and whalers began. Humans brought with them introduced species such as rats, pigs and fire ants, which preyed on young tortoises and their eggs as well as destroying their habitat. More recently, growing human populations and the tourist industry has meant increased agriculture and infrastructure development leading to further habitat destruction. All these factors have meant that only 10 of at least 15 original species have survived, and many of these remain endangered. With future climate change likely to affect most species on Galapagos including the giant tortoise, efforts to protect this wonderful species are imperative for their survival. The Galapagos Conservation Trust are helping with these efforts through tortoise tracking projects and ongoing conservation activities.  

Here are five interesting facts about our shelled reptilian friends:

  1. Turtles and tortoises have been around for about 200 million years. This means they might have shared their dinner with an Amygdalodon dinosaur!
  2. A tortoise is a turtle, but a (sea) turtle isn’t a tortoise. The term ‘turtle’ can actually refer to any shelled reptile, but the term ‘tortoise’ is for terrestrial turtles only.
  3. The temperature inside turtle and tortoise nests affects the sex of hatchlings.  Warmer temperatures produce more males, whilst cooler temperatures produce more females.
  4. Charles Darwin and Steve Irwin looked after the same tortoise: a Galapagos giant tortoise named Harriet.
  5. Galapagos giant tortoise eggs are about the size of tennis balls!

If you would like to learn more tortoise facts why not visit the Tortoise Trackers page on Discovering Galapagos.

by Rachael Blundell