Walking in the Shadow of Lonesome George.
Elvis had Graceland, Michael Jackson had Neverland and Lonesome George had the Darwin Station. Each one took full advantage of their home while they were alive. Elvis grilled up late night peanut butter and banana sandwiches, Michael hung with Corey Feldman in his personal amusement park, and Lonesome George lived like a retired bachelor as a Galapagos tortoise, doing his best to ensure he wouldn’t be the last of his kind.
Unfortunately, all things must pass. And like Elvis and Michael before, Lonesome George’s life came to an end last June, signaling the extinction of the Pinta Island tortoise (Latin: Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii). Despite his passing, his spirit can be felt around Santa Cruz Island where the Charles Darwin Research Center is located.
Just a short walk from Puerto Ayora, the Darwin Station is set back in the dense underbrush and rugged volcanic terrain of Santa Cruz. Established in 1964, the center is the place where research, education and conservation in the Galapagos Islands comes together under the watchful eye of the intense equatorial sun. Visitors can tour the Van Straelen Exibition Center to learn more about the archaeological history and the conservation efforts scientists are working on for the Galapagos terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Additionally, visitors to the Darwin Center can get an up close view of a variety of different giant Galapagos tortoise subspecies snacking on cacti, playing in the mud and sleeping in their large multi-area enclosures; the only thing missing is Lonesome George.
As I was walking along I met two large -tortoises, each of which must have weighed at least two hundred pounds: one was eating a piece of cactus, and as I approached, it stared at me and slowly stalked away; the other gave a deep hiss, and drew in its head. These huge reptiles, surrounded by the black lava, the leafless shrubs, and large cacti, seemed to my fancy like some antediluvian animals. The few dull-coloured birds cared no more for me, than they did for the great tortoises.Charles Darwin | Excerpt from The Voyage of the Beagle
Santa Cruz was our first stop on our Adventure Life Cruise through the Galapagos Islands, and I thought the visit to the Darwin Center was a great introduction to Ecuador’s famous archipelago, especially since our guide, Whitman Cox, was with us to give a more in depth look at the animals we encountered and the conservation efforts going on around us. For example, Whitman pointed out the tortoise rearing house, where hatchlings and young Galapagos tortoises are nurtured until they can be released back to their home islands; approximately 2,000 tortoises have been introduced back into the wild. In addition to seeing the giant tortoises, the Darwin Center, which features elevated boardwalks and several shaded patio areas, is also an ideal place to do a little bird watching. A lot of the islands’ native bird species can be found there, including the famous Darwin Finch.
After the center, Beth and I made our way back into the Galapagos’ biggest, little city Puerto Ayora, stopping occasionally to shoot a lounging lizard. We were pretty tight on time, so we didn’t have a chance to do much except hit up an ATM and take in our surroundings as we walked back to the dock. But I’ve got to say, from what I saw of Puerto Ayora, I really liked it. It reminded me of the beach towns in Mexico with its main street lined with colorful restaurants, bars and artisan shops.
Riding back to our ship, the Galapagos Odyssey, as dusk started to take hold, I thought about Lonesome George in his final moments as that last breath flushed from him, sealing his fate as well as that of his subspecies for eternity, and wondered what he thought.
I hope you enjoy our photo essay of our time on Santa Cruz Island…
Know Before You Go – Facts & Tips For Visiting Santa Cruz Island
- Lonesome George died of “old age” on June 24, 2012. His exact age is unknown but is estimated to be between 100 and 150 years old.
- At the time of his death, George had been living at the Darwin Center for 40 years.
- Lonesome George mated with two of his female companions to produce three sets of eggs in the late 2000s; however, none of them ever hatched.
Santa Cruz Island
- The centerpiece of the archipelago, Santa Cruz is the second largest island in the Galapagos after Isabela.
- Santa Cruz is home to the largest human population in the islands at the town with a total of 12,000 residents.
- The island is named after the Holy Cross with its English name, Indefatigable, coming from the British vessel HMS Indefatigable.
Things to Do
- The Charles Darwin Research Station (free) is open daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Tortuga Bay, just a short walk from Puerto Ayora, is a great place to view crabs, marine iguanas and birds. It’s also possible to spot white tip reef sharks and the gigantic Galapagos tortoise in the mangroves around the bay.
*Please remember all photos on this website, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted and property of Beers and Beans Travel Website & Bethany Salvon. Please do not use them without my permission. If you do want to use one of them please contact me first. Thanks!
Disclaimer: We were hosted on Santa Cruz by Adventure Life; however, our thoughts and opinions are entirely our own.