In just a couple of weeks, our travellers will be visiting the Galapagos Islands again and enjoying many of its features, one of which is the opportunity to see mythical giant tortoises that lend their Spanish name of Galápagos to the archipelago.

Over the years, scientists have determined that there are several distinct species of tortoise on the islands, differing from each other in many ways and none overlapping in geographic range with another. The tortoises that Quest travellers have seen roaming in their native habitat represent the species called the Santa Cruz Tortoise, which we find in the western highlands of the island of Santa Cruz. However, henceforth, the tortoises that they see won’t be called the Santa Cruz Tortoise; they will be collectively called the Western Santa Cruz Tortoise.
As announced recently by the Galapagos Conservancy, it was recently discovered that there are in fact two giant tortoise species residing on Santa Cruz. A smaller tortoise population living on the east side of the island was long thought to comprise the same species as that in the west. However, the eastern ones were known to be isolated from the larger western population. Subsequent genetic investigation has recently revealed that the eastern tortoises are more closely related to the tortoises on faraway Chatham Island to the east than to the western population on their own island! The genetic “gulf” between the eastern and western tortoises was enough to have the eastern population christened another species, bearing the name Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise.

Relatively little is yet known about the Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise's life history and the peculiar survival challenges that it faces, but its naming will also confer special attention on its members and ensure more is learned about them. We won’t have a chance to see this species with our own eyes but we’re just happy to know that they are there and that there are dedicated researchers studying them closely.

We thank the Galapagos Conservancy for disseminating this news! The Galapagos Conservancy raises funds and awareness for research on, and preservation and restoration of, the Galapagos’ unique habitats and wildlife.

There is still space on upcoming Galapagos expeditions! To learn more about our upcoming departures, please see our Ecuador country page here.