Galápagos Giant Tortoise
This species is the largest living tortoise and can weigh up to 250 kilograms. It’s also one of the longest-lived vertebrates, with a life span in the wild of over 100 years. In fact, one captive individual reached at least 170.
The Galápagos Islands were discovered in the 16th century by Spanish explorers who named them after their word for tortoise, galápago. Within the archipelago, up to 15 subspecies of Galapagos Tortoises have been recognised historically, although only 11 subspecies survive to this day.
The species’ slow growth rate, late sexual maturity and island endemism made it particularly prone to decline and, in some instances, extinction. Tortoises were used for food by whaling ships and fur-sealers, or killed for turtle oil. Settlement of the islands in the early 19th century lead to further population declines. At the time of discovery, tortoise numbers on the archipelago were estimated at over 250,000 but declined to a low of around 3000 by the 1970s. Conservation efforts have brought numbers up to over 19,300 today. Tortoises listed in the IUCN threatened species classification range from Extinct in the Wild to Vulnerable.
Distribution: Galápagos archipelago, west of Ecuador
Conservation status: Vulnerable
Evolutionary distinctiveness: Low