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Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology

Galapagos giant tortoise
© Arnfinn Johansen
Tortoises on the slopes of Alcedo volcano, Isabela play video


Galapagos giant tortoises are among the most iconic species in the Archipelago; not only are they the world’s largest terrestrial reptiles, they are also important keystone species, and play a vital role in maintaining the Islands’ unique habitats. Driven to extinction on some islands and the brink of extinction on others, tortoises are slowly recovering but remain threatened. We are supporting the Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Programme (GTMEP) to improve our understanding of the ecology, health and reproduction of these iconic reptiles in order to inform future conservation strategies. 

Project Partners

Charles Darwin Foundation Galapagos National Park Saint Louis Zoo - Institute for Conservation Medicine Max Planck Insititute Houston Zoo

Galapagos giant tortoises in numbers

Galapagos giant tortoise


out of 15 Galapagos tortoise species survive in the Archipelago

Galapagos giant tortoise


years old – the age giant tortoises can live to

Two fighting tortoises


islands in Galapagos are now home to giant tortoises

Galapagos giant tortoise crossing dirt road, Santa Cruz
© Nick Dale

The problem

The major threats to the giant tortoise populations, namely invasive species, urbanisation, climate change and land-use change, all stem from anthropogenic causes. Only through an understanding of the ecological needs of the tortoises can landscape planning successfully conserve their numbers.

The GTMEP project team in the field

How we’re tackling it

The GTMEP, led by Dr Stephen Blake, addresses this need to better mitigate the negative human effects on tortoises through determining their spatial needs, assessing changes in tortoise populations over time, and looking at the extent to which their health is being impacted by human activity. 

Building on over a decade of research we have supported, our focus now is on piloting solutions to reduce key threats, including ‘tortoise-friendly’ farm strategies, strengthening tortoise nest protection with Park Rangers, tackling the sources of environmental and biological pollutants in tortoise habitat (plastic waste, viruses and antibiotic-resistant bacteria), and improving community awareness of tortoise-traffic collisions – all vital actions to protect this iconic species.

Galapagos giant tortoise feeding
© Jose Rui da Cruz Moura Santos

Project goals

  • Determine how environmental conditions influence tortoise movement ecology, migration routes, females returning to nesting areas, reproductive success and ecosystem services. 
  • Determine how environmental conditions influence hatchlings’ movement ecology and their recruitment including nest predation/egg mortality, and hatchling growth and mortality. 
  • Determine the baseline of tortoise health and place this in relationship to anthropogenic activities throughout the Archipelago. 
  • Determine key sources and impacts of plastics and agricultural chemicals on giant tortoises. 
  • Communicate and share the project findings through educational opportunities for young people in Galapagos including virtual and practical activities.

This project is kindly supported by

Swiss Association of Friends of the Galapagos Islands
Jean Sainsbury Animal Welfare Trust
Galapagos giant tortoise
© Karel de Pauw

Project updates

Galapagos giant tortoise eating cactus pad
20th Nov 2023
Island restoration Research

Galapagos giant tortoises: An update from the field

We spoke to Dr Patrick Moldowan, who joined the Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Programme as Principal Investigator earlier this year, about the team’s recent work in the field.
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Plastic waste found in Galapagos giant tortoise faeces
13th Nov 2023
Plastic pollution

New research shows that Galapagos giant tortoises are ingesting plastic waste

A new study published in the journal Environmental Pollution has found that giant tortoises on Santa Cruz island are ingesting items including medical face masks, glass and plastic bags.
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Galapagos Day 2022 at the Royal Geographical Society, London
25th Oct 2022
Biodiversity loss Events

Galapagos Day 2022: Protecting Species & Preventing Extinctions

On Thursday 20 October we were delighted to return to the Royal Geographical Society for our first in-person Galapagos Day since 2019.
Read more
3rd Aug 2022
Women in science

Women in Science: PCR in Galapagos Giant Tortoises

Gislayne, a biotechnologist from Galapagos explores the use of PCR in work to assess the health of Endangered giant tortoises.
Read more

How you can help

Please help us save the Galapagos giant tortoise by donating today or by adopting a tortoise.

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