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Galapagos Pictures - Giant Galapagos tortoise
Geochelone nigra (Geochelone elephantophus)

The Giant Galapagos Tortoise is the classic Galapagos Islands animal. They gave the islands their name after the old Spanish word Galapago for saddle which the shape of the shell of some varieties resembles. The tortoises on the islands are all part of the same species, Geochelone nigra, sometimes called Geochelone elephantophus, they can vary considerably however and there are 14 recognised varieties. Galapagos tortoises are found nowhere else in the world other than these islands.

"The inhabitants... state that they can distinguish the tortoise from different islands; and that they differ not only in size, but in other characters. Captain Porter has described those from Charles and from the nearest island to it, namely Hood Island, as having their shells in front thick and turned up like a Spanish saddle, whilst the tortoises from James Island are rounder, blacker, and have a better taste when cooked." Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle-  1845

There is only one other species of giant tortoise found in the world, the Aldabra tortoise which lives on islands in the Indian Ocean.

Galapagos Giant Tortoises can measure up to 1.5m (nearly 5ft) long from one end of the shell (carapace) to the other and weigh up to 250kg (550lbs.). It is not known exactly how long they can live, but it is thought to be at least 150 years, their growth is determined directly by the availability of food. They have rings on the individual segments of the shell (correctly called scutes) which act like the rings on a tree, years of rapid growth being wide and poor years being narrow. It is not possible to use these rings to correctly age an animal as a new and larger layer is added to the plates each year with the old one remaining above it, older layers can become rubbed off.

The current population of Giant Tortoises is estimated at around 15,000, there may have been 200,000 to 300,000 originally before they were taken for food by passing ships in the 18th and 19th centuries. Unfortunately for them, a giant tortoise made an excellent living larder on a sailing ship far from land. they were stored upside down and would stay alive for months without water or food. Fortunately such a fate does not await Galapagos Tortoises today.

They have also suffered from predation on the eggs and young tortoises by feral animals such as pigs and dogs and by competition for food by large feral goat populations on some islands.

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Santa Cruz - Southeastern
Expedition ship - families
90 passengers
5 days from $2,620
Santa Cruz - Northern
Expedition ship - families
90 passengers
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Santa Cruz - Southwestern
Expedition ship - families
90 passengers
6 days from $3,276
Celebrity Xpedition - Southeastern
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Natural history "lite"
96 passengers
11 days from $6,399
Celebrity Xpedition - Southwestern
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Natural history "lite"
96 passengers
11 days from $6,399
Galapagos Sky
Diving option
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16 passengers
8 days from $5,495
Cachalote I - North-South
Small sailboat, ideal for charter
16 passengers
8 days from $2,960
Cachalote I - Western
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16 passengers
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Eric / Flamingo / Letty
Northwestern Cruise
Motor Yachts, good guides, kayaking options
20 passengers
8 days from $4,100
Eric / Flamingo / Letty
Southern Cruise
Motor Yachts, good guides, kayaking options
20 passengers
8 days from $4,100
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