After more than a century without a single baby tortoise sighting on the Galapagos island of Pinzón, a small group of younglings have been spotted.
Galapagos tortoises have been considered among the most endangered animals of the Galapagos.
But new research suggests there are now more than 500 estimated to be currently living on the island, after a huge conservation and repopulation effort has proven successful.
The tortoises, of which there have been at least 300 spotted, were first seen by researcher James Gibbs in December. Gibbs said 10 of these were hatchlings.
He told The Dodo:
I’m amazed that the tortoises gave us the opportunity to make up for our mistakes after so long.
The recent births are helping to pull the critically endangered animals back from the brink of extinction after they were nearly laid to waste as a result of human activity.
Sailors first landed on Pinzón Island in the mid-18th century, on ships which carried rats.
The long-tailed rodents who came to the islands on the early vessels quickly gained a foothold in the fragile ecosystem, according to records, and began feasting on the eggs and hatchlings of the island’s tortoises.
Until then, the tortoises had few natural predators.
The human-driven rat invasion was so devastating to the tortoise population that over the following decades not a single tortoise offspring survived the onslaught – setting the species on the path to extinction.
But conservation efforts, developed in the 1960s when the tortoise population have dwindled to less than 100, have eradicated the rat population on the Galapagos’ Pinzón.
The conservationists found a few unhatched eggs which were collected and incubated on a nearby island.
The tortoises were hatched and raised for five years until they were large enough not to be attacked by rats before being released back on Pinzón – but the rats still persevered.
But in 2012, biologists used helicopters to distribute poison designed to kills the rats – and it worked; Pinzón was recently declared rat-free.
The incredible eradication of rats on this island, done by the park service and others, has created the opportunity for the tortoises to breed for the first time.