As many as 2,000 unique species make their home in the Galápagos Islands. These animals cannot be found anywhere else, and are growing increasingly rare.
Among those animals are several species of giant tortoises, as Natural Habitat Adventures reports, herbivorous reptiles that can weigh around 600 pounds and live up to 120 years.
Tortoises are actually the namesake for all the islands, as Galápagos means “tortoise” in Spanish.
Two hundred years ago, researchers estimate as many as 200,000 Galápagos giant tortoises roamed the islands, according to Galapagos Safari Camp. Due to poaching and other human interference, their populations have plummeted.
Ecuadorian officials more recently discovered the carcasses of four endangered giant tortoises, slaughtered illegally for their meat.
Less than a year before that, authorities discovered the decaying corpses of 15 other giant tortoises, also murdered for the illegal meat trade, ABC 13 reports.
Fourteen species of giant Galápagos tortoises are currently threatened, Treehugger reports, with authorities listing them as vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered – and even extinct.
Killing tortoises has been illegal for 89 years, since 1933, but that hasn’t stopped people from hunting and butchering them for their meat.
“Personnel of the Galápagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Research Station regularly survey populations of tortoises throughout the archipelago and report all dead tortoises found. For the 10-year period 1995–2004 the field personnel reported evidence of 190 giant tortoises killed, primarily on the southern portion of Isabela Island,” reads a study published by Cambridge University Press.
“For the first 6 years the number of tortoises found killed was <15 per year, but since 2001 the number killed has increased dramatically, with 49 tortoises poached in 2004. Killing tortoises has been illegal since 1933 in the Galápagos Islands. Photo: Adobe Stock /Grispb
Killing tortoises has been illegal since 1933 in the Galápagos Islands.
According to Mongabay, the illegal wildlife meat trade is running rampant from the Galápagos, to Madagascar, to Southeastern Asia.
A 2018 investigation by the NGO TRAFFIC found hundreds of radiated tortoises, along with other species, being sold in markets in Indonesia, where they can fetch more than $7,300 apiece.
Investigations also show that meat of protected turtle species is sold in several markets in India. As RoundGlass reports, these ‘wet markets’ present an acute health hazard and need to be looked into urgently in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Law enforcement services in Ecuador are provided by the national police, called “Policía Nacional del Ecuador”. The police force is part of the Ministry of Interior. National police and border control have real-time access to INTERPOL databases so they can detect if suspects or travelers are wanted by INTERPOL or traveling on a stolen passport.
The United States Embassy and Consulate in Ecuador has also trained 10 new prosecutors, El Comercio reports. Two of the prosecutors have participated in environmental crime management issues and eight in the fight against wildlife trafficking.
These agencies and prosecutors must focus on working closely together in the coming years if we are to prevent more tortoise species from disappearing forever.
We can’t allow the illegal slaughter of tortoises drive these species to extinction and torment the communities of the Galápagos.
This article by Matthew Russell was first published by The Animal Rescue Site. Lead Image: PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK / RAWPIXEL.COM – TORTOISES IN THE GALÁPAGOS ARE BEING KILLED AT AN ALARMING RATE.
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