The Charles Darwin Research Station

An enthusiastic mate for Lonesome George?

Perhaps the most famous institution in Ecuador is here in the Galapagos. It is a must see for every visitor and for those travelling aboard Queen of Galapagos it is the highlight of our first day.

The Charles Darwin Foundation was inaugurated in 1959 and five years later the first of sprawling complex of buildings was built that is now the Charles Darwin Research Station. Today it houses some 200 or so scientists from all around the world, here to study the unique environment of the Galapagos.

There is a programme for replanting indigenous plants. A building houses what looks like a garden centre with pots of indigenous plants but there are no price labels. Instead local inhabitants can take what they like, for free, to replace foreign species of plants in their gardens.

Another and perhaps more famous activity of the station is the breeding of tortoises. National Park Rangers gather up freshly laid eggs from various islands and bring them to the station. Hatching takes place in specially adapted incubators and controlled temperature ensure a higher number of females are born. Pampered for five years the babies grow rapidly and securely before being returned to live in the wild on their native islands.

One programme is devoted to the most famous tortoise of all. Lonesome George is thought to be the very last of his kind from the island of Pinta. Now he lives with two lady tortoises’ each with similar genes, though not exactly the same it is hoped to preserve something of his kind. At 90 some years of age a lot of future history is resting on the shoulders of poor old Lonesome George and we wish him well.

Giant tortoises can live up to 150 and reach around 250 kilos in weight. Size is not an indicator of age but another of the programmes at the station is the re-homing of unwanted and rescued tortoises’ and among these is Popeye a huge mammal whose shell was shot up badly by soldiers in an army base. Fierce and unfriendly at first due to his cruel life, he has recovered his equilibrium and become docile and content.

Queen of Galapagos is available for charter through Robert Shepherd at Edmiston