The giant tortoise is the world's largest species of tortoise and has one of the longest lifespans in the animal kingdom. The tortoise's enormous size was once thought a prime example of insular gigantism; however, the theory was disproved after it was discovered that they had already developed their large size while on the mainland. The tortoises can weigh close to 1,000 pounds with the largest individual, Goliath, weighing in at 919 pounds. Some species of giant tortoise had already evolved to their present-day size more than 70 million years ago. Their habitat is currently limited to two groups of islands in Ecuador and Seychelles.
The Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador's territory and occupy an area of about 3,040 square miles. The Galapagos Islands consist of about 20 islands, and the Giant tortoise is a native inhabitant of seven islands. Scientists estimate that the giant tortoise arrived on the islands nearly 1 million years ago. After the extinction of 4 species, the island is currently host to around 11 species of giant tortoise. A few of the species on the island are considered critically endangered mainly due to human activities. Hunting is the main reason that various giant tortoise species on the islands are extinct. On the island of Santa Cruz, a 381 square mile island that is part of the Galapagos Islands, various farms have been established where ideal conditions are provided for the tortoises. These farms are popular with tourists looking to view the tortoises. On the 215-square mile San Cristobal Island is a wild tortoise population rarely visited by tourists. Giant tortoises also inhabit Isabela Island, particularly around Alcedo Volcano. Despite having a wild tortoise population, tourists generally do not tour the island due to its fragility.
The Aldabra Island chain is part of Seychelles' territory. The island includes the second largest coral atoll in the world on which the world's largest population of giant tortoise consisting of more than 150,000 individuals are found. The community consists of only one species; the Aldabra giant tortoise. Across Seychelles, various islands have a population of Aldabra giant tortoises with the Curieuse Island having 500 individuals. Some Aldabra tortoises live for an exceptionally long period, with the oldest being Adwaitya that lived for 255 years. One of the primary locations to see the tortoises is at the Seychelles National Botanical Gardens on Mahe Island.
Conservation of The Giant Tortoise
Besides the loss of their natural habitat, the primary threat to giant tortoises is hunting. Various organizations have been set up one of which is the Galapagos National Park Service to ensure the survival of the giant tortoise. Several efforts have been established mainly breeding programs to increase the dwindling populations. One of the most successful conservation efforts was for the Espanola subspecies. Although less than 15 individuals initially survived, intensive conservation efforts have increased the population to more than 1,000 individuals. Despite the efforts to increase the tortoise populations, a few species have gone extinct. The Pinta tortoise went extinct in 2012 after the death of the last purebred Pinta tortoise.