One of the reasons we chose Natural Habitat as our tour operator in the Galapagos, in addition to the small group and ship size, was the fact they have a dedicated Tortoise Camp.
A TORTOISE CAMP. I mean, how amazing is that? It's set up sort of like a safari-style camp. It's definitely more rustic, but the food and drink was amazing. What's better than drinking a cocktail and watching the tortoises in the sunset? Not much, that's what.
Now, I get it. Some people see one tortoise at the Darwin Center and watch them for 10 minutes and call it good. I am definitely not one of these people…I just love watching animals. And these tortoises are just fascinating, incredible, and one of the many reasons the Galapagos Islands are so unique.
Do you know how cool it is to be able to see these giant tortoises in the wild? It's amazing. They graze, the wander, they appear where you don't expect them, they are just cool. The scientific name of the giant tortoise is Geochelone elephantophus–they are the biggest tortoises, and can reach 500-600 pounds. And they live to over 100 years. Pretty incredible.
Now, the Galapagos has faced lots of tortoise problems–many were hunted/poached, and many islands that used to have tortoises no longer do. Additionally, these creatures are a tad bit destructive to crops…given their size and voracious appetite…kind of like mini bull-dozers. Dogs and cats also like to prey on the young ones. But it seems, now, at least on Santa Cruz, that they have struck a balance. There are select parts of farmland that are blocked off from the tortoises, but most places the fences are created in a way that the tortoises can move to and from as they please (the bottom wire is high enough to allow them to pass but still keeps cattle in the enclosure). There are wonderful tortoise crossing signs on the road so drivers watch for them. And it seems as if, with the work of the Darwin Center and others, that these tortoises have a pretty stable population.
Now, just because these tortoises are big and well, not that speedy (though fairly efficient in their movements), don't think for a second they aren't wild and don't have personalities. They, particularly, sometimes do not like to be watched. Even if you give them their 10 foot or so radius, they will turn away from you, sigh, and almost hiss when they get irritated with your presence! Mainly turning away…especially when you finally think you are going to get a shot of their face with grass in their mouth. Crafty creatures, but then again, it is THEIR space, not ours. Plus, I'm a sucker for unsocial and stand-offish animals that sigh.
Anyhow, enough blabbering about giant tortoises, but if you are waffling on a trip and are interested in staying the night on Santa Cruz to see them, I'd wholeheartedly recommend it. Plus, it's nice to get back on land even for a few hours…but then again, boats and I have a complicated relationship.
I'll leave you with some giant tortoises…