Charles Darwin Research Station
Aside from the warm climate and the vacation atmosphere, the main attractions at Puerto Ayora are the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Headquarters of the Galapagos National Park
, a 15-minute walk northeast from town. At the Darwin Station giant tortoises
are born and bred in captivity.
Visitors see how hatchling giant tortoises
are incubated in dark boxes for the first two weeks of their lives, then transferred to outdoor corrals for two or three years. Then they are released into bigger, adoption corrals, which simulate natural conditions of the islands, where they learn to walk on lava rocks and how to find water. At four or five years old their shells are hard enough to protect them from predators, and they are released into the wild.
The last dozen or so remaining tortoises on Espanola
island were taken in to the center, where some 200 offspring were brought up in captivity before being taken back to their island. A similar scheme for the Pinzon
tortoise has been equally successful. The center has returned nearly 3,000 tortoises to their native islands throughout the archipelago.
One tortoise who will probably never leave Darwin Station is Lonesome George, the sole survivor of the Pinta breed. Found unexpectedly on Pinta
in 1971, he is now a resident of Santa Cruz
. In spite of thorough searches of his birthplace, no mate has been found for George. There is a US$10,000*
reward for anyone who does — a tricky proposition for a bounty hunter because only qualified scientists are allowed on the island.
George, who is from the biggest of the saddleback subspecies, shares his corral at the Darwin Station with two females from Volcan Wolf on Isabela. Although from a subspecies that is very similar to George’s, the old man doesn’t show interest in mating. Scientists have taken the precaution of extracting and deep-freezing George’s sperm for possible use in the future.
The chance to say good-bye to a dying breed is one of the high points of a visit to the Darwin Center, but also interesting is the walk-in tortoise enclosure for almost face-to-face meetings with other incredible, armor-plated hulks, though visitors should refrain from touching them. In addition there’s a museum, an exhibition center, a souvenir shop selling T-shirts to support the research station, and trails through salt bush, mangrove and cacti plantations populated by Darwin’s finches
and other birds.
An ethnographic museum for the islands, Museo Galapagos, on Charles Binford up from Banco del Pacifico, might be up and running by the time you read this. It's web sitewill be www.galapagosmuseum.com
*The prices are approximately
||Article contributed by Dominic Hamilton|||