Near Extinct Galapagos Tortoise Slaughtered, Threatens Species' Existence

Park Rangers at the Galápagos National Park discovered an unusual site while patrolling a remote part of southern Isabela Island: the remains of 15 slaughtered tortoises.

The Galápagos Conservancy said the discovery was "shocking" and that while 13 of the tortoises had been dead for an indeterminate amount of time, two were freshly killed.

Giant tortoises like those found in the Galápagos are a historically threatened species due to exploitation for food and materials during the 18th and 19th centuries. Giant tortoises were also harvested for oil.

According to the conservancy, "the highly imperiled state of tortoises today on southern Isabela Island, caused by the historic destruction of tortoise populations by whalers and early colonists, has been difficult to reverse because poaching continues."

After the creation of the national park on Isabela Island in 1959, officials noticed a decline in the hunting of tortoises. But in 1990, officials saw a resurgence of illegal killing and hunting of the animals, primarily in the southern part of the island.

The conservancy reported that when the national park started, there were about 200,000-300,000 tortoises living in the Galápagos. Now, the conservancy predicted less than 15 percent of that population is alive.

The conservancy explained that while few residents poach tortoises, "local demand for tortoise meat and other tortoise products has escalated." Since there are few tortoises still living nearby the Sierra Negra volcano, which once had the largest population of tortoises on the island, "this ongoing killing poses a major threat to the species' continued existence."

Officials stated that the Galápagos has seen an increase in illegal global wildlife trade, which heavily impacts the population of the already suffering species. The conservancy said it works with local authorities to attempt to stop the network of illegal tortoise poachers and traders.

"These latest discoveries show that it is more urgent than ever to end the killing and trafficking of Giant Tortoises before they undermine the long-term trajectory of tortoise recovery. Galápagos Conservancy is stepping up our efforts to support the Galápagos National Park Directorate to find those responsible and end this despicable activity, forever," the conservancy said.

Tortoises Massacred in Galapagos Islands
The Galápagos Conservancy said they were "disturbed" by the discovery of 15 slaughtered tortoises. Officials said 13 of the tortoises had been dead for an indeterminate amount of time, while two were freshly killed. joreasonable/Getty Images

In March, Newsweek reported about 185 baby Galápagos tortoises that were found at an airport wrapped up in plastic inside a suitcase.

According to officials, the baby tortoises were headed to mainland Ecuador. The cargo, which was seized by customs officials during a routine inspection, was intended to go to the port city of Guayaquil.

The x-ray machine at the airport detected "irregularities" in the suitcase, and when they opened the suitcase airport authorities found 185 baby tortoises, 10 of which were dead. According to officials, the tortoises were no older than 3 months old.

While these were wild tortoises, the conservancy said in 2018, 129 baby tortoises were stolen from an official breeding center. But they were later recovered in Peru.