London: Galapagos tortoise, who’s number had slipped down to merely 15 in the world in the 1970s, have risen to 1,000 on the islands thanks to a successful breeding program.
The tortoises which helped inspire Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution were virtually extinct but now the future looks much less bleak.
There are now thought to be more than 1,000 tortoises on the islands of Santa Cruz, Santiago, Pinzen, and Espanola.
Conservationists began a unique project to return the environment back to the time when Darwin first visited the Galapagos in the mid 19th Century.
The group of rocky, volcanic islands 600 miles west of mainland Ecuador are a UNESCO world natural heritage site and home to dozens of species found nowhere else.
Some 95 percent of the territory’s 3,000 sq miles is a protected area.
Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos islands during his five-year voyage around South America which set sail in 1831.
He was fascinated by the giant tortoise and in particular noted the difference in the shape of their shells between the different species on each island.
It helped him understand how animals adapt to their environment and inspire his theories of evolution which shook the scientific world when they were published in 1859.
But the iconic species was all but wiped out by the actions of the human population throughout the 20th century.
After running out of tortoises to eat, sailors introduced goats to the island and their numbers multiplied rapidly, destroying the island’s vegetation.
The remaining tortoises had to be taken into a captive breeding environment while the goat population was culled.
But there is renewed hope that the giant tortoise will flourish now that their numbers have risen and the species appears to have become part of the ecosystem once again.