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Galapagos Giant Tortoise

These legendary and ubiquitous creatures left such an impression on the first Spaniards to arrive on the archipelago that they named the whole collection of islands after their word for tortoise: galapago. Weighing in at 550 pounds, these massive herbivores graze on the leafy greens of the Galapagos. The shape and density of their shells vary according to island and in accordance with factors like climate and humidity. The giant tortoises living on islands with humid climates have larger, domed shells while those living in arid climates have saddleback shells and longer necks. They live to be about 100 years old.

While there were an estimated 200,000 giant tortoises on the archipelago before humans settled there, the impact of whalers, hunters, and feral animals dealt a serious blow to their population. Today, the rehabilitation of the giant tortoise is one of the top concerns of the Galapagos National Park. Young tortoises are protected from feral predators in the national park until they are large enough for release into the wild. Visitors can find giant tortoises at many different hatching centers, and can be seen in their natural habitat on the islands of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal.