Wendee Holtcamp
Photography: Galapagos Islands

Day 6: Highlands of Santa Cruz Island

We took a bus from the town of Puerto Ayora to the highlands of Santa Cruz. There we went to a private ranch that has an agreement with the Galapagos National Park to protect the tortoises found there, rather than farm the land. The tortoises there are wild, and it was mating season. One of our groups of ten saw the tortoises mating but I didn't get to. Apparently they mate for several hours and their shells bang on one another and the male lets out loud groans. Pretty cool! My favorite photo was the tortoise we spotted while we were just driving in the bus toward the ranch. The tortoise was just plodding along down the road.

There are different subspecies on nearly every island, but some island populations have gone extinct. There are two different shell types for tortoises based on what they eat, which depends on the elevation they occur at. For tortoises that eat vegetation low to the ground they have rounded shells like these in the photos. There is also a saddle-back shaped shell that has a huge indentation that allows the tortoises to reach their necks up to eat from trees.

We also went on a short walk around the highlands forest including walking through a lava tube, where we had to scoot on our belly and all 4s at one point. I am not a big fan of small spaces, especially because Karina was telling us how the tube is continually collapsing over time... and we saw evidence via fallen rock and boulders all around as we walked and crawled through... but I did it to challenge my fears.

Note the straight shell rather than the saddle-back shape here.

This was the tortoise we saw walking down the road from the bus.

Chowing down!

This one was tucked away in its shell.

Look at the size of their poo! The pen is there for comparison.

Another view of the tortoise in its shell.

A little out of focus, but I watched this tortoise for some time eating.

They like to lounge about in the water

A view of the highland forest - very different from the lowland lava!

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Copyright (c) 2007 Wendee Holtcamp

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