Ecological Restoration in the Galapagos - Project Pinta

Where: Pinta Island, Galapagos


Project Pinta is a long-term initiative dedicated to a complete ecological restoration of Pinta Island in the Galapagos. Over more than a century, non-native goats had fundamentally damaged the structure of the island’s vegetation. Goats were removed from Pinta in 2003, but the island’s ecosystem had become imbalanced. It is hoped that the reintroduction of giant tortoises, which have an important balancing effect on vegetation and seed germination, will recondition this habitat to its original condition.

In recent years, male and female tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz had been housed in separate corrals. These animals are hybrids – there are actually some 14 subspecies of the giant reptiles known as “Galapagos tortoises” – so were not preferred to breed, as conservationists seek to preserve genetic variations endemic to individual Galapagos islands.

In 2009, Zoo Atlanta’s Dr. Sam Rivera was invited to assist a group of veterinarians in performing surgical sterilizations that would allow 39 hybrid tortoises to live together for the first time in many years. In 2010, the tortoises were released on Pinta Island, where their movements, habits and ecological impact are being monitored.

Sam Rivera, DVM, Associate Veterinarian at Zoo Atlanta; the team was led by Dr. Joseph Flanagan of the Houston Zoo and Dr. Stephen Divers of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, in collaboration with Galapagos National Park.

Giant tortoises have been known to live well over 100 years. Prior to the sterilizations, this group of animals would have been unlikely ever to be able to return to the wild. Dr. Rivera assisted with an aspect of the project that will allow those animals to live on Pinta, while enabling them to fulfill an important role in their ecosystem.  Project Pinta ultimately seeks to establish a reproductive group of animals that are as genetically close as possible to the area’s original native tortoises.