A small sample of the Galapagos park rangers’ work
Restoration of giant tortoise populations funded by the NGO Galapagos Conservancy. Photo: Fernando Ortiz
Tourism in the Galapagos Islands is minimal, but conservation work has never stopped. Quietly, as always, scientists, volunteers and park rangers do not rest in their research and ecosystem restoration work.
Fernando Ortiz, a naturalist guide for almost thirty years, excitedly shares his experience as a field study volunteer for the census and tagging of the Alcedo volcano turtles on Isabela Island.
This is part of the giant tortoise population restoration initiative funded by the NGO “Galapagos Conservancy,” whose Galapagos director is Wacho Tapia. Twenty-eight people camped on the volcano for a week. Each was assigned an area of 4.5 square kilometers. They recognized turtles by taking their measurements, weight, and blood samples, finally identifying them with paint and an electronic chip.
Wacho Tapia confirms to me that 4,823 animals were marked, estimating that the population amounts to approximately 15,000 for the entire volcano.
The ascent to the Alcedo caldera involves an 18-kilometer hike, uphill with a load on your back. The last four kilometers consist of an almost vertical wall (the outer flanks of the volcano on the south east side). Fernando describes to me that [this journey] is also in the rain, with wet stone, and very thorny vegetation.
“There were guys who did the 18 km in 3 and a half hours, it seemed they were running, I took 5 hours to the booth, and there were people who took up to 7 hours. Although it was never a sprint race, that day was one of travel and preparation. The camaraderie was always noticed, with everyone helping us, with smiles ”.
The hut was built in 1997 with the intention of having a camp and to collect rainwater. “The sad thing is that there were a lot of rats inside the house,” Fernando tells me. “When we arrived they were scared, but after 2 or 3 days they already gained confidence and were walking on the roofs. So I set up my tent outside.
There the danger was to end up being made an omelette by the small tractors that are the giant tortoises. Imagine a 400 pound animal running over you. I improvised mesh as a fence, but the same female turtle that drank from the water that fell from my tent – a young woman of about 200 pounds – would wake me up at 5 am every morning. at which point I already knew it was her breakfast time, and mine.”
The good news is that no evidence of goats or donkeys was found, and they saw witch birds [Vermilion Flycatcher, or Pájaro brujo, (Pyrocephalus nanus)] in abundance, though they saw too many cats and rats.
“The first one who returned from the 5 to 6 hour walk would cook for the 28 people. There were never claims; we returned to exchange opinions, share data. It was a week of total discomfort, no shower, with dirty and wet clothes, eating canned food with rice.
That’s the life of the park rangers, and I take my hat off them. They really know these islands, and in very harsh conditions,” Fernando repeats. “It was a privilege to work together with them, to listen to them share their old adventures ascending the Wolf volcano in search of the pink iguana, or traveling to Santiago so many times to eradicate goats.
They know the Galapagos are extraordinary and they are the ones who put the work into so many conservation programs, that we refer to as guides, and that tourists carry in their memory. The park rangers do an extraordinary job that is not sufficiently recognized.”
I agree with Fernando.
Read the coverage from El Universo at https://www.eluniverso.com/larevista/columnistas-larevista/una-pequena-muestra-del-trabajo-de-los-guardaparques-de-galapagos-nota/
Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2021