Meet the tortoises
Maria
Maria is the first Galapagos tortoise ever to be fitted with a GPS tag and therefore she has a special place in the Galapagos Tortoise Programme. Maria is named in honour of the wife of a Galapagos National Park ranger called Wilman, who helped find and tag her. A small female, probably just sexually mature when tagged, Maria is a member of the Cerro Fatal tortoise population, which gets its name from a small hill (cerro in Spanish) in the heart of the tortoise range. Cerro Fatal is an important tortoise nesting area, but Maria was tagged several kilometres away. Maria is one of a handful of adult females and therefore she bears a considerable responsibility for the regeneration of the population.

During the first year of the study, Maria rarely moved more than 200m from the tagging site. Then suddenly in late June 2010, she began walking in a direct line towards Cerro Fatal, some 2.5km to the north. Whether she followed another tortoise or knew exactly where to go is unknown, but her sense of direction was remarkable. Over the next year, she remained close to Cerro Fatal, after which the batteries in her GPS tag died, though she continues to be seen occasionally at Cerro Fatal.
Island Santa Cruz   
Tag ID number 765   
Sex Female   
Date tagged 27 April 2009   
Location Latitude -0.658482  
Location Longitude        90.246071   
GNP ID code
Estimated age
949
30 years
 
Helber
Like Maria, Helber is part of the Cerro Fatal tortoise population. Helber was found while feeding heavily on guayava (Psidium guayava) fruits on a farm near to Cerro Mesa, a large hill to the east of Santa Cruz Island. There were hundreds of fruits within a 10m radius of Helber, and he was clearly enjoying the feast. He was an easy subject to tag, and as soon as we started working on him, he put his head in his shell, hissed loudly, put his feet in, and obviously decided to sit out whatever we had planned for him. The tagging process was uneventful, and after it was over, Helber resumed his feeding bout as if nothing has happened.

Helber's movements are a model of classic long distance stereotypical, season migration. In early May 2009, he left Cerro Mesa and headed along a long slowly curving route to Cerro Fatal. During his migration, his daily travel distance averaged about 280 metres, compared to just 58 metres per day before and after the migration. His migration ends at Cerro Fatal where he remains for the wet season, and into the dry season, presumably for the combination of good food and numerous receptive females. Helber has migrated along the same route consistently over the almost three years he was tagged. Each time his route varied, but there is a clear pinch point he seems to go through.
Island Santa Cruz   
Tag ID number 766  
Sex Male   
Date tagged 29 April 2009   
Location Latitude -0.645446  
Location Longitude        90.281283  
GNP ID code
Estimated age
1688
80 years
 
Download Helber's data by clicking on the GoogleEarth logo
Jumbo and Nigrita
Island Santa Cruz   
Tag ID number 1191  
Sex Male   
Date tagged 25 March 2010  
Location Latitude -0.64864  
Location Longitude        90.24500  
GNP ID code
Estimated age
N/A
100 years
 
Island Santa Cruz   
Tag ID number 1190  
Sex Female   
Date tagged 24 Feb 2010  
Location Latitude -0.63406  
Location Longitude       
90.24220
 
GNP ID code
Estimated age
912
70 years
 
Jumbo and Nigrita are two wild Galapagos tortoises named in honour of the first pair of Galapagos tortoises to breed in captivity, at the Zurich Zoo. They were tagged in 2010 and since then Jumbo has been busy. He spent the dry cool season up in the highlands of Santa Cruz, enjoying the lush vegetation in the farms near to a well-known hill called Cerro Mesa. Then, as the rains came in December 2011, he once again migrated into the lowlands (graph below), as he did the year before, and most likely the previous 50 years before that!! Nigrita, on the other hand, continues to use a very small home range close the main nesting site of Cerro Fatal. We are not sure why she does not migrate, but part of the reason may be that in the years since she was fitted with a GPS tag, rainfall on Santa Cruz has been comparatively high. This may mean that for smaller tortoises (females and younger males) enough vegetation remains in the lowlands through the year to meet their needs. Larger individuals, like Jumbo may need to migrate because they require a bigger volume of food, which, during the dry season they can only find in the highlands.
Sebastian
Sebastian is one of the largest tortoises tagged on Santa Cruz, with an estimated weight of 250kg. When tagged, Sebastian was "courting" a female tortoise in an area called "la Caseta" in Galapagos National Park. They had been mating in the early morning, and the two of them seemed like an ideal pair of tortoises for the research since their future social interactions could be recorded. Sadly they went their separate ways! Sebastian soon moved down to the lowlands of Santa Cruz into the tortoise nesting areas where he undoubtedly found many other females, while Carolina moved into the highlands and into the beautiful Mariposa Ranch. They have not met since that first brief encounter. Sebastian gets his name from a close collaborator of the Galapagos Tortoise Program, a scientist called Sebastian Cruz, who was born and grew up on Galapagos. Sebastian normally works on swallow tailed gull movements but found the time to help tag Sebastian the tortoise.
Sebastian and Randal
Sebastian has developed a rather nice relationship with one of the programme's best friends and supporters - an Englishman called Randal Keynes. Randal, it turns out, has a very strong relationship with Galapagos, because he is the Great Great Grandson of Charles Darwin! One day, Randal met Sebastian in the highlands of Santa Cruz, and spent the morning with him, It was fascinating to see Randal downloading the GPS/accelerometer data from Sebastian's telemetry unit, particularly when it is perfectly possible that Sebastian was migrating along much the same trails today as he did when Darwin was sitting in his study in Kent, England, contemplating his Theory of Natural Selection.
Island Santa Cruz   
Tag ID number 775  
Sex Male   
Date tagged 14 May 2009  
Location Latitude -0.658739  
Location Longitude       
90.245003
 
GNP ID code
Estimated age
101
160 years
 
Emma
Island Espanola   
Tag ID number 1382  
Sex Female  
Date tagged 28 October 2010  
Location Latitude -1.371317  
Location Longitude       
-89.684705
 
GNP ID code
Estimated age
36
37 years
 
Emma is a member of what may be the greatest conservation reintroduction in history. She was incubated and hatched in the captive breeding centre of the Galapagos National Park, to a mother who was one of just 14 individuals recovered from Espanola in the early 1970s. The tortoise population of Espanola was in dire straits at that time, due to the destruction of vegetation by goats and the historical harvest of tortoises that had left the Espanola species close to extinction. Successful captive breeding coupled with goat removal from Espanola has meant that Emma and hundreds of her species have been repatriated, and now form a breeding population that seems to be growing well. Emma's park ID code is 36, which signifies that she was only the 36th tortoise to be reintroduced to Espanola. She may be a crucial animal for the restoration of the Espanola tortoise species.

Emma's movements are interesting. While she does not migrate, her wet and dry season ranges differ. She appears to expand her range in the wet season, probably in search of good food.
Find Emma's data (and those of all the other tortoises) by clicking on the Movebank logo above.
Find Maria's movement data (and those of all the other tortoises) by clicking on the Movebank logo above. Download as a GoogleEarth file and make a 3D film!
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