Galapagos Tortoises

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As part of our Darwin 200 celebrations, ZSL London Zoo opened 'Giants of the Galapagos', home to our magnificent Galapagos tortoises - Dolly, Polly and Priscilla!

A pair of Galapagos Tortoises at ZSL London Zoo

Galapagos tortoises are extraordinary. They're the largest tortoises in the world, they can live for over 150 years, and they carry around huge, bony shells that they can hide inside if they feel threatened. Sadly, despite their size they are gentle giants, and over the last few hundred years they haven't been too good at fending off predators.

Tortoises also played a very interesting part in the history of natural science. When Charles Darwin, who was an early 'fellow' of ZSL, visited the Galapagos in 1835, he learnt of variations in the tortoises from different islands. Later on these observations would help him form his revolutionary new theory of 'natural selection'.

Galapagos tortoises came under threat when humans arrived at the islands and hunted them for food, causing 3 of the 14 species to vanish completely. Very little hunting occurs these days, but the tortoises are still threatened by domestic animals brought to the islands by passing ships, tourism, and disease.

ZSL and other organizations are helping keep the tortoises safe, by running field conservation projects in the Galapagos Islands, and finding out about disease threats to Galapagos flora and fauna.

'Giants of the Galapagos' will consist of indoor and outdoor areas with fantastic viewing points for visitors in a barrier free environment.

The exhibit will be styled on the tortoises' natural habitat and will consist of watering holes and mud wallows and will also feature fun and educational interpretation giving all ages the chance to learn about the Galapagos, compare their weight to one of these gentle giants and hear some of Darwin's observations when he visited the islands in 1835.

Visitors will be able to view these gentle giants in their fantastic enclosure!


Giants of the Galapagos

  • The Galapagos Islands are a group of volcanic islands distributed around the equator in the Pacific Ocean, west of Ecuador.
  • They are a UNESCO World Heritage site and are home to some of the world’s most stunning wildlife.
  • The Galapagos are a fragile environment, where many species have come under threat from hunting and more recently from tourism, disease and the introduction of invasive species.
  • Charles Darwin studied the Galapagos during the voyage of the Beagle. His observations and collections later helped him come up with his famous theory of evolution by natural selection.
  • Darwin commented on the different shell patterns of the tortoises on different islands. He tried riding one, and even ate tortoise meat!
  • Some of the tortoises had shells that were shaped like saddles. The Spanish sailors saw this and named the islands ‘Galapagos’ which means ‘saddles’ in Spanish.

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Dirk the Galapagos tortoise at ZSL London Zoo

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