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123 baby giant tortoises stolen from Galápagos breeding center

  • Authorities in Ecuador have confirmed that 123 baby giant turtles were stolen from the Arnaldo Tupiza breeding center on Isabela, the largest island of the Galápagos, on the night of Sept. 24.
  • The hatchlings belonged to two species, the Cerro Azul giant tortoise (Chelonoidis vicina) and Sierra Negra giant tortoise (Chelonoidis guntheri), both listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
  • Provincial lawmaker Washington Paredes Torres said the breeding center did not have surveillance systems, security cameras or light sensors, and had only one guard. He added: “If somebody wants to go in by night and steal, they can.”

On the night of Sept. 24, 123 giant tortoise hatchlings were stolen from the Arnaldo Tupiza breeding center on Isabela, the largest island in the Galápagos.

The hatchlings belonged to two species, the Cerro Azul (Chelonoidis vicina) and Sierra Negra (Chelonoidis guntheri) giant tortoises, the Ministry of Environment of Ecuador said in a statement. Both species are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.

The theft is under investigation by the Galápagos attorney general’s office, the ministry said, and they are withholding further information “to avoid obstruction of the work of the competent authorities.”

A week-old Galápagos tortoise. Image by Peder Toftegaard Olsen via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).

Native to the Galápagos Islands, the Galápagos giant tortoises have experienced a severe population decline over the past decades, caused mainly by hunting for meat and oil, the introduction of non-native animals like goats, rats and pigs to the islands, and agricultural expansion. Today, only 10 of the 15 known species of Galápagos giant tortoise survive in the wild — all either severely threatened or on the brink of extinction.

Captive-breeding efforts to save the tortoises from extinction began in 1965. The Arnaldo Tupiza breeding center, established in 1993, is one of three tortoise centers in the Galápagos created to help restore giant tortoise numbers in the wild. All three facilities are managed by the Galápagos National Park Directorate.

Located on Isabela Island, the Arnaldo Tupiza center spans ​​2 hectares (5 acres) for the captive breeding of giant tortoises, according to the environment ministry’s statement. “It also has park rangers, volunteers and security personnel to guarantee the work that is carried out in the place,” the ministry said.

Washington Paredes Torres, a member of the Galápagos provincial assembly, said on Twitter that the center did not have surveillance systems, security cameras or light sensors, and had only one guard. “The turtles are just there. If somebody wants to go in by night and steal, they can,” he told AFP.

Chelonoidis vicina at the Charles Darwin Research Station, Santa Cruz Island, Galápagos National Park, Ecuador. Image by Bernard Gagnon via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).