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Giant tortoises are thought to have numbered in the tens of thousands before pirates and whalers began removing them for food on the Galapagos Islands. As a result of the over-exploitation in past centuries, tortoises were believed to be extinct on Pinta, one of the islands in the Galapagos, during much of the past century. Though Lonesome George, a Galapagos tortoise, was discovered on the island in 1971, he was removed in 1972 and transported to another island to ensure his safety. The introduction of 40,000 goats in 1959 also greatly affected the ecosystem, and while they have been gone since 2003, the damage has been considerable.
Dr. Joe Flanagan, a veterinarian at the Houston Zoo, has been working with other vets from the US and Galapagos National Park to get giant tortoises back to the island in order to restore balance to the ecosystem. In 2009, preparation began for this project: they quarantined the turtles to ensure they were not carrying invasive plant species with them, and they had to be sterilized to ensure hybrid species would not create hybrid young. In May 2010, they released 39 tortoises onto the island. Dr. Joe and the Houston Zoo continue even today to work with conservation partners to ensure the successful reintroduction of tortoises to the island of Pinta.
Donate to help Galapagos island tortoises in the wild: