For the first time in 150 years and after more than 50 years of conservation efforts, the number of saddleback giant tortoises (Chelonoidis ephippium) seems set to recover unaided on Pinzón Island in the Galapagos archipelago. Rats, early whalers and pirates almost wiped out these ancient creatures.
We found ten tiny, newly hatched saddleback tortoises on the island early last month. There could be many more, because their size and camouflage makes them hard to spot. Our discovery indicates that the giant tortoise is once again able to reproduce on its own in the wild.
The Galapagos National Park and its collaborators set up a programme to save the tortoise in the 1960s, when only about 100 animals remained. This involved collecting eggs and raising hatchlings in captivity for 4–5 years to reach 'rat-proof' size, as well as drastic rat-eradication measures (see Nature 497, 306–308; 2013). These strategies have now enabled the species to stabilize itself.