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by on March 13, 2020

How many Galapagos Tortoises are there?

The Galapagos Islands are full of unique endemic (only live within that area) wildlife. One of the biggest attractions that have captivated visitors since the beginning, the Galapagos tortoise. So how many Galapagos tortoises are there, and how many different species? Currently, there are 12 species of tortoise alive today, with a combined population estimate by the IUCN red list falling between 24,620 – 27,325 individuals.

How-many-galapagos-tortoises-are-there-Tortoise

How many Galapagos tortoises were there historically?

Historically, it is thought that there were between 100,000 to 200,000 tortoises on the islands. This means today’s numbers of Galapagos tortoises have decreased up to a 900 percent decrease.

Why are the Tortoises Vulnerable or Endangered?

This notable decrease is caused by a variety of factors. Historically, pirates and whalers used this species as a significant source of food, with these creatures weighing up to 900 lbs, and having the ability to survive for months without food or water. This even drove some of the species on specific islands to extinction.

Although the Galapagos tortoise is federally protected, this species continues to face many threats. Introduced predators still inhabit the islands, most notably feral hogs, which cannot resist tortoise eggs. Additionally, black rats and fire ants can be disastrous for hatch success rates. In terms of humans, we still have a negative on Galapagos tortoises. By creating agricultural crops with fences through historic tortoise migration routes, tortoises have difficulty finding mates, food, and the proper nesting ground. Adding difficulty to the situation, the eggs of the species are so small that they cannot easily be found. So what are scientists doing about it? Using trackers on Galapagos tortoises show nesting areas, which allow scientists to protect the areas from predators. These trackers also show migration routes, which is crucial for cordoning off areas for Galapagos tortoise

How-many-galapagos-tortoises-are-there-Tortoise-bathing protection.

How many Galapagos Tortoises Are There – Species Breakdown

1. Western Santa Cruz Giant Galapagos Tortoise 
Population 3,400 individuals.
Classified in the IUCN red list as critically endangered critically endangered

2. Eastern Santa Cruz Giant Galapagos Tortoise 
Population 250 individuals
Classified in the IUCN red list as critically endangered critically endangered

3. Wolf Volcano Giant Galapagos Tortoise 
Population of 7,000-8,000 individuals
Classified in the IUCN red list as vulnerable. Currently, there are 2000 marked adults. In the past, the population size is estimated at roughly 25,000 adults.

4. Espanola Giant Galapagos Tortoise
Population 100-200 individuals
Classified in the IUCN red list as critically endangered. The population is currently increasing.

5. Pinzon Giant Tortoise
Population 300 – 400 individuals.
Classified in the IUCN red list as Vulnerable, with the population increasing.

6. Volcan Darwin Giant Tortoise
Population 800 individuals.
Classified in the IUCN red list as Endangered

7. Santiago Giant Galapagos Tortoise
Population 500-1700 individuals.
Classified in the IUCN red list as critically endangered.

8. Fernandina Giant Tortoise 
Population 0-5 individuals
Classified in the IUCN red list as critically endangered.

9. San Cristobal Giant Tortoise
Population 2,950 individuals
Classified in the IUCN red list as endangered.

10. Cerro Azul Giant Tortoise
Population 2,600 individuals
Classified in the IUCN red list as Vulnerable considered endangered.

11. Volcan Alcedo Giant Tortoise
Population 6,320 individuals.
Classified in the IUCN red list as Vulnerable

12. Sierra Negra Giant Galapagos Tortoise
Population 400-700 individuals
Classified in the IUCN red list as critically endangered.

How did the Tortoises Migrate to the Galapagos Islands?

Giant tortoises, up to 5 feet in length, were widespread on all continents excluding Australia and Antarctica before and during the Pleistocene era(2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago) Three extant species on the South American mainland 1000km way are the most likely candidates for the most recent relatives. These are the South American yellow-footed tortoise; the South American red-footed tortoise and the Chaco tortoise. These likely arrived via large rafts of floating vegetation and uprooted trees. Alternative theories state that the Galapagos tortoise species swam, with the ability to survive for many months without food and water.

Volcanoes-in-the-Galapagos-giant-tortoise

Conservation Efforts

Multiple organizations and conservation centers exist on the Galapagos Islands. Many of these centers have breeding programs with the mission of perpetuating the vulnerable and endangered species. By controlling the temperature of the eggs during incubation, scientists can dictate the sex of the Galapagos tortoise to create a balanced population. Additionally, they can protect the newborn tortoises in enclosures until they are old enough to fend for themselves in the wild against predatory bird species and invasive species.

How-many-galapagos-tortoises-are-there-baby-tortoise

Recently, the Galapagos tortoise named Diego became famous for creating so many babies that he “saved his species.” Diego retired after reproducing with so many females that led to approximately 800 babies, which will eventually be reintroduced to the Islands.

Can Galapagos tortoises swim?

Galapagos tortoises are exclusively land creatures, and they cannot swim. However, they can float, and drift. One of the theories of their arrival is that they actually drifted from the mainland. As they can go months without drink or water, it is possible that they drifted over to the Galapagos Islands

Explore the Islands

To find out about other species, check our list of 21 famous species of the Galapagos Islands along with the fun facts that go along with each, including the blue-footed booby, marine iguanas, fur seals, magnificent frigatebirds, and more! To visit the Galapagos Islands, check our options on our website featuring both landbased and cruise based tours, along with tours of Machu Pichu and the Amazon rainforest.


About Keenan Ennis

Keenan Ennis studied Conservation and wildlife biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. This eventually lead him to a program in Ecuador studying hummingbirds and their keystone nutritional species in the Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve. Since, he has worked with the critically endangered Bandurria Andina, or black-faced Ibis of the Andean Páramo. Through his ecological background, he provides an in depth insight into the conservation processes of the Galapagos Islands.

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