Quito (Equador), May 23:
Administrators at Ecuador’s Galapagos National Park said 207 giant turtles will be released next month on the island of Santa Fe, where the native tortoises died out more than 150 years ago.
The turtles to be set loose on June 5 by the park directors and the Galapagos Conservancy group belong to the species Chelonoidis hoodensis, Spanish news agency Efe reported from the South American nation.
Native to the Galapagos island of Espanola, the Chelonoidis is morphologically and genetically similar to the original Santa Fe turtle.
The aim of the initiative is to establish “a breeding population that fulfills a function in the ecosystem”, park management said.
“Once the turtles are introduced, a key part of this project is to assess changes in the ecosystem resulting from the presence of these chelonians, and to evaluate the interaction between the turtles and the island’s land iguanas, particularly in the use of shared resources like food,” Danny Rueda, Galapagos ecosystems director, said.
The turtles to be released on Santa Fe range in age from four to 10 and have been raised in captivity.
Around 40 of the turtles will be equipped with a GPS device that will relay data on their movements and activities.
Pirates and whalers depleted the population of turtles in the archipaelago, leaving only 15 individuals that allowed park management and the Charles Darwin Foundation to start a breeding programme.
The eradication in 1971 of the goats that had been introduced to the islands contributed greatly to the recovery of the ecosystem.
The Galapagos Islands, located about 1,000 km west of the coast of continental Ecuador, were declared a World Natural Heritage Site in 1978. (IANS)