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  • Writer's pictureEmma Kay Bleakley

Slow and steady wins the race for re-wilding on Galapagos

Updated: Jul 22, 2022

UWE Award winning article - 2022 Bursary Competition

Re-wilding is currently big news and some of the most effective re-wilders are also some of the slowest and most surprising animals, tortoises! Not the pet tortoises in your garden, eating dandelions, but the giant tortoises of Galapagos. The world’s largest re-wilding project is in the Galapagos, with a breeding and release programme of over 10,000 Galapagos tortoises of various native species. As wandering, migratory animals, giant tortoises are incredibly effective at re-wilding on the difficult volcanic, mountainous and lowland terrains of this island chain.

Since numbers of giant tortoises have dwindled, and some species have become extinct, the plant life of the Galapagos islands has changed. Grassland savannahs have given way to woody scrubland and invasive plant species have taken hold. Reintroducing giant tortoises to places where they were once extinct is what re-wilding is all about. The tortoises, which are the largest native land animals on the islands, act as ecosystem engineers and are slowly returning the islands back to their natural state.

The life and loves of the giant tortoises make them ideal re-wilders. They have been known to travel up to 45-km on their migrations up and down the various habitats and terrains of the islands. They are unfussy eaters, with different species grazing from the ground, browsing from low hanging trees and shrubs, or feeding on fallen leaves and fruits. Their slow-paced way of life is ideal for seed distribution, as they push through the invasive scrub and create new paths around the islands. Seeds take from 2─28 days to pass through their gut and are then deposited out into their nutrient rich dung, the perfect environment for germination and for new seedlings to thrive.

Like tortoises, re-wilding takes its time, but it’s worth it.

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