by Lita Cosner and Jonathan Sarfati

The Galápagos archipelago is a group of volcanic Pacific islands located on the equator, 972 km west of continental Ecuador. They are probably most famous for Darwin’s historic month-long visit on the Beagle in 1835. The strange creatures that Darwin reported on, such as the birds1 and marine iguanas,2 have fascinated readers since. But the iconic species is the native giant tortoise, from which the archipelago receives its name. The largest living species of tortoise, the Galápagos tortoise can weigh over 250 kg (550 lb) and live for over a century.

Darwin and the tortoise

Charles Darwin studied the tortoises, and the islands’ vice-governor told him that one could tell from its characteristics alone which island a tortoise was from. Darwin initially dismissed this statement, and rightly so, since even modern evolutionists admit that it was something of an exaggeration. So he took the differences between the varieties of tortoises to be nothing more than the sort of variation which could arise from a species being transplanted to a different habitat.3 But he failed to take detailed notes of the variations among the tortoises (his notes mostly record their behaviour) or to take specimens for scientific study.4

The Galápagos tortoises were subject to overhunting by humans who kept them for food on ships. This decimated the population. The giant tortoises were seen to be an excellent source of fresh meat, as the tortoises could be kept for long periods of time with little food or water. The sailors on the Beagle took 30 on board for this purpose, discarding the shells and bones as they consumed them. (Woodmorappe suggests this as one more possible food source for carnivores on the Ark; fodder tortoises.5)

Darwin took two young tortoises as pets. And they, along with specimens Captain FitzRoy took for the British Museum, constituted Darwin’s only evidence when he realized the tortoises’ importance.6….

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