Galapagos News

Arches to Pillars: Geological Evolution in Progress

The iconic Darwin's Arch,  a geological formation located at Darwin Island in the extreme north of the archipelago... is no more!  The central portion of the arch gave way earlier today, leaving behind a new geological wonder, Darwin's Pillars!  It had to happen one day.   The site is accessible only to scuba divers on a full 7 night / 8 day live-aboard trip.  

 

BEFORE: 


AFTER:

Launch of the 'Galapagos Hub'

The “Galapagos Hub” was launched this week and we believe it shows a true sign of (much needed) connectivity in Galapagos – both connecting on an interpersonal level as well as technologically. The launch was done via Facebook live, with majority of the presentation done by the President of the Governing Council of Galapagos, Norman Wray.

 

The Hub is described as a (virtual) space where information and knowledge can be exchanged between various national and international organizations, along with the communities of Galapagos, both from a wide spectrum of fields and areas of expertise. Its creators stress the importance of using this tool to ensure that, through science and technology, Galapagos will have an optimal balance between humans and the natural elements of the Islands. They will be using the 2030 Galapagos Plan as a guide and Wray mentions several times during his presentation that the work around this Hub will be free of ‘the usual corruption’ – very impressive to hear this type of blunt language used.  

 

“Seguimos potenciando lo que se ha hecho y queremos dar pasos fijos para el futuro.” (roughly translated to, ‘We continue to promote all which we have done and we want to create definite steps for the future.’)  – Norman Wray, Governor of Galapagos

 

While this type of international academic exchange has been done in Galapagos for decades (mainly through the Charles Darwin Foundation and its many collaborating institutions), the 'game changer' for the Galapagos Hub will be that it will operate in a whole new era of fast and reliable internet in the Islands.

 

During the presentation it was clear that the youth and young adults of Galapagos are primary beneficiaries of this Hub and used strategically throughout its creation; several young Galapagueño university students took part through pre-recorded videos.  Wray comments several times about how the young will use science to solve the world’s problems.

 

This new tool brings together two Ecuadorian universities – both of which have their own type of satellite campus in Galapagos. Other collaborators in the Hub include: two UK academic institutions – King’s College Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh; two Ecuadorian government organizations; and two non-profit, non-governmental organizations – one of which is our old stomping ground, the Charles Darwin Research Station.

 

Norman Wray presenting the four pillars of the Galapagos Hub, during the live event. (Translation: Innovation and Investigation; Networking and Awareness-Raising; Education and Strengthening Sciences; Politics)

 

This effort has been several years in the making, but the catalyst (as well as defining element required for its function) will be a fibre optic cable that is scheduled to be operational in Galapagos in January 2022. This cable has been discussed for many (many) years now and it will bring a truly revolutionary connectivity to the Islands. (While we may later discuss the potential issues of laying and running an underwater fibre optic cable through the protected Galapagos Marine Reserve, I believe that conservation work in the Islands has been greatly inhibited by the slow and limited internet.)

 

Almost as if pre-arranged, the connection from the feed of Mr Wray cut out around the 16 minute mark, as he was presenting live. Again highlighting the significant need for substantial improvements in internet connectivity in Galapagos. Once re-connected, Wray laughs and comments on how this just further shows how crucial this fibre optic cable is for Galapagos.

 

The launch was done live on the Governing Council of Galapagos’ Facebook page (@cggalapagos), but a recording is available should you be interested (translations weren’t available during the live event).

 

We look forward to seeing more advancements with this new initiative and certainly we will be keeping a VERY close eye on any updates regarding the fibre optic cable.

 

"Samba Northwest Itinerary April 13-20, 2021 BEST TRIP EVER!!"

We are copy-pasting this review that was posted on TripAdvisor yesterday.  Working hand in hand with the ship owner, we have been chartering the Samba for 22-25 weeks per year and started doing so 15 years ago for a good reason.  
Samba Northwest Itinerary April 13-20, 2021 BEST TRIP EVER!!
My husband and I recently spent 5 weeks in the Galapagos and tried to see almost everything that there is to see there. During this time we did a scuba liveaboard, stayed on Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristobal doing day trips, and spent a week aboard the Samba for a naturalist cruise. Out of all of the incredible experiences we had in the Galapagos, Samba was our absolute favorite. In fact, Samba was the best excursion we have done, in any country, ever. 

We were extremely lucky to get booked with Samba after a different boat canceled us twice. Samba’s itinerary is unmatched by any other vessel in the Galapagos. We were able to go to Genovesa, Marchena (no other naturalist boats can go here), Fernandina, the west side of Isabela, and Floreana, all in one 8-day trip.

In my work life, I guide nature walks and teach kids about ecology and environmental science. I know how difficult it is to explain things to people in a way that is interesting and understandable. A lot of knowledge, charisma, and passion are needed to keep people engaged. Our guide, Juan Salcedo, was absolutely perfect for the job. He was by far the most passionate, knowledgeable, and well-spoken guide we have had anywhere. We learned more from Juan than from anyone else in the Galapagos. If you have a question about a plant, animal, ecosystem, geology, history, or anything else, Juan had an educated answer. He made sure we arrived early so that we could spend ample time at each site and everyone could get what they wanted. The photographers on board got amazing photos, and I learned A LOT. I especially love birds, which is one of the main reasons I wanted to come to the Galapagos. We got to see nesting boobies, flamingoes, petrels, flightless cormorants, and many others. We even got to swim with penguins! Juan made sure that we were never bored by allowing us to do additional activities such as waking up at 5am to swim with dolphins, or having a costumed equator-crossing party (complete with complimentary piña coladas!). Juan went above and beyond the duties of a guide. Even between locations, Juan and the crew were on the lookout for dolphins and whales, and we often would change course to get a closer look.

In addition to our excellent guide, the crew went above and beyond to keep us safe and comfortable. The boat was kept very clean and in good working order by the crew. The food was fantastic, and everyone was given excellent meals despite many different dietary restrictions among the passengers, including vegans, vegetarians, and people with food allergies. From the pangas, the crew kept a careful watch on the passengers as we snorkeled and kayaked. The voyages between different locations in the Galapagos were smooth, with most of them taking place during the night so that we didn’t waste any daylight. On board, we felt like one big family, so much so that we even lost a game of fútbol to the crew! They were all very friendly and professional, making our experience on board unforgettable.

The Samba is a very safe, comfortable boat. There are lots of areas to hang out, including the sun deck on the bow, a cool giant couch on the second deck at the stern, a seating area on the main deck at the stern, and an indoor seating area. Cabins were well-equipped with air conditioning and a private bathroom with ample hot water. Cabins were cleaned daily. Snorkeling equipment and wetsuits were provided, and there was an area to dry out equipment and clothing after snorkeling. There were also lots of kayaks available to use during our excursions, or you could choose to ride in the panga. All equipment was of high-quality and in excellent shape. 

We do not typically return to a location that we have traveled to, but we plan on returning to the Samba. We would highly recommend this trip to anyone that wants to get the most out of their time in the Galapagos. We saw everything that we wanted to see and much, much more! Thank you, Samba crew, for the best trip we’ve ever had!



Carbon Neutral in '22

Starting in 2022, all of our guests' activities in Ecuador will be carbon neutral.   We've worked out an average CO2 emissions from a typical trip (762kg or 1,672lbs), covering those emitted from your domestic return flight to Galapagos, and an 8 day cruise.   We will be working with Gold Standard.  According to its website (www.goldstandard.org), Gold Standard: 

...sets requirements to design projects for maximum positive impact in climate and development -- and to measure and report outcomes in the most credible and efficient way. 

Gold Standard is based in Switzerland.  It was established in 2003 by WWF and other international NGOs to ensure projects that reduced carbon emissions featured the highest levels of environmental integrity and also contributed to sustainable development.  It receives operational financial support from the United Nations and the World Bank, from the governments of Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Luxembourg, from the World Wildlife Fund and from many other similarly reputable sources.

The average price / tonne for carbon offsets at Gold Standard is US$18.   By supporting Gold Standard projects to the amount of $13.72 / guest ($18/tonne x 0.762 tonnes), we will ensure that your Ecuadorian carbon emissions are offset.   

CNH Tours encourages all other travel companies to do the same.   As for our guests, you might want to purchase offsets for the emissions generated from your international travel.  Most commercial airline websites will provide mechanisms to facilitate doing so.  

If you'd like to know more about carbon offsets and how they work, please consult our "ALL YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT CARBON OFFSETS" document by clicking here.  

USA supports Ecuador's anti-poaching work

Wildlife trafficking is a massive issue on a global scale.  From shark fins to ebony, pangolin scales to ivory - the wildlife trade mafia is very well-organized and in many cases, its work is driving species to extinction.  All efforts to control this trade need to be supported.  The article below appeared in Ecuador's "El Comercio" newspaper on Earth Day last week.   

(original article in Spanish by Isabel Alarcón, translated by Google with minor edits by CNH Tours)

The fight against wildlife trafficking, illegal fishing and unauthorized felling of trees will be reinforced in the country.  The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced on April 22, 2020 that it will collaborate with the State Attorney General's Office in the fight against this type of activity that endangers the flora and fauna of Ecuador.

To address these issues, a specialized unit will be designed and implemented in the Office of the Prosecutor for wildlife crimes. USAID will provide technical assistance, as part of the project Strengthening the Governance of Natural Resources in Ecuador, and the World Wide Fund for Nature Ecuador (WWF) will support this work. Through this unit, the aim is to stop activities such as the trafficking of Galapagos tortoises or to contain the massive export of shark fins.

(above: Over 100 baby giant tortoises were discovered in a suitcase earlier this year)

Another initiative is to strengthen its IT infrastructure. Michael J. Fitzpatrick, United States Ambassador to Ecuador, says that the protection of the environment has become a central issue in the public policy, both internal and external, of the United States Government. In addition, he affirmed that President Joe Biden is committed to the fight against climate change. Among the initiatives carried out by the United States Embassy and Consulate in Ecuador is the training of 10 prosecutors. Two of these participated in environmental crime management issues and eight in the fight against wildlife trafficking.

 

This content has been originally published by Diario EL COMERCIO at the following address:

https://www.elcomercio.com/tendencia/ecuador-eeuu-trafico-vida-silvestre.html

18 and older in Galapagos? You'll be vaccinated by 31 May

The vice-president of Galapagos, Maria Alejandra Muñoz, announced yesterday that through an agreement with Pfizer, all Galapagos residents 18 years old and above will be vaccinated by the end of May.  

Galapagos is the most iconic wildlife tourist destination in Ecuador, if not amont the top on the planet.  By vaccinating its adult population, the govenment of Ecuador is telling the world that Galapagos is open for tourism. 

CNH Tours recommends that you travel only if you've been fully vaccinated.   Entry into Ecuador requires proof of vaccination, or a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival.  Entry in Galapagos requires a negative PCR test taken within 96 hours of arrival.

Ecuadorians choose a new government tomorrow

The 2nd and final round of national elections takes place tomorrow, 11 April.   The choice facing Ecuadorians is between Guillermo Lasso, a former presidential candidate and senior figure in the finance sector, and Andres Arauz, the young former finance minister under the populist government of Rafael Correa.  

The country faces massive headwinds.  Beyond the obvious challenges posed by COVID-19, Ecuador defaulted on its loans last year.  Built up over several years of very high oil prices, the oil exporting nation's national budget grew very rapidly.  It reached levels no longer sustainable now that oil prices have dropped by nearly 50%.  

You know things are going badly when even the left-wing Arauz's campaign promise is to "reduce national expenditures more slowly than what the other candidate promises".    

Ecuadorians have seen quite a revolving door of governments over the past 25 years.   From the impeached Abdala Bucaran (popularly known as the loving madman), to the chaos of dollarization in 2000, when the country abandoned is rapidly devaluating national currency, the Sucre, to the short-lived triumvirate following a military coup in 2000, and then the flight to Brazil of president Lucio Guttierez on 20 April 2005 (I was actually meeting with him in the presidential office on the 18th of April - and our meeting took place with the background chants of "Fuera! Lucio" [get out! Lucio!])... 

It came as no surprise that strong (and very handsome and charming) man, Rafael Correa, with a Ph.D. in economics, was welcomed by the majority of Ecuadorians as president in 2007.  Supported by high oil prices and generous loans from China, he spent liberally.  But his efforts to extend term limits for presidents were thwarted.  He was ousted in 2017, to be replaced by his right-hand mand, Lenin Morales.  Morales, faced with catastrophic fall in oil prices did an about-face on his predecessor's populist policies and even had him impeached.   

The new president will assume power on May 24th.  

Just before the 1st round back in February, we asked our Ecuadorian friend, Fernando Ortiz, to share his thoughts.  We posted them here

 

 

 

When Prince Philip Visited Galapagos

This article appeared yesterday in VISTAZO, a weekly variety magazine in Ecuador, following the death of Prince Philip.  He was a nature conservation champion, having played a leading role in establishing the World Wide Fund for Nature in 1961, and indirectly supporting the creating of the Charles Darwin Foundation.   Thanks to Google Translate for the English language version (with a few minor edits from CNH Tours). 

 

WHEN PRINCE PHILIP BECAME ENAMORED WITH ECUADOR AND GALAPAGOS

On the morning of Saturday, February 17, 1964, an unexpected commotion broke out in the streets of Quito. It was about the arrival of a figure who had never been to the country before and who, at that time, was surrounded by an extremely romantic aura, as the chronicles of that time narrate. Ecuador welcomed Prince Philip, consort of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom with open arms.

Philip spent a few days in Quito and then went to the Galapagos Islands, one of the country's greatest heritages, and the cradle of Charles Darwin's wildlife exploration, which led him to create the recognized theory of human evolution.

The prince, very interested in the conservation and research of wildlife, decided to visit the territory, of which today there is a tangible memory: on Genovesa Island, some steps were baptized under the name of Prince Philip's Steps.

Below:  Prince Philip and what appear to be petrels or shearwaters. 

(photo: Royal Post)

ARRIVAL IN QUITO

An article in Glance from that time narrates that the prince's passage through the streets of Quito was "a triumphant walk." The women threw flowers at him from their balconies and smiled warmly, a gesture the man returned.

“While it is true that the strict rules of protocol prevented this visit from being what the Duke really wanted - a fellowship visit - the three days that His Highness spent in Quito always provided ways for the public who observed him to realize of his intention” narrated Adela Egas G.

A series of measures were applied during the stay of the Duke of Edinburgh, among which are restrictions for the press and the lack of the gala ball, so common in the visits of the monarchs to other countries. However, Philip made three occasions and in each one of them people gathered to see him, greet him, and shout some words of friendship in doubtful English.

The duke was staying in the presidential suite of the Hotel Quito [CNH Tours note:  We consider the Hotel Quito “the grand old dame of Quito hotels still today”], which was redecorated by orders of the chancellery and the British embassy, ​​with carpets and paintings of national edges, which the prince would later have praised. In addition, 4 telephones were installed, one of them with a direct connection to London, a complete security assessment was carried out on the premises, the hotel's “Beach Club” was closed and a guard was installed in the elevator.

In the midst of the boorish English among his official retinue, he provided the only human note, always ready for friendship. At no time did he adopt poses that could give an idea of ​​presumption or pride and in all the acts that he attended he tried to talk to as many people as possible, he asked them questions regarding themselves and their personal occupations" said Egas.

Despite the protocol, Philip took time to practice his favorite sport: polo. He also would have wanted to go down to the Casino and the Rondador Hall of the Hotel Quito to entertain himself, but again, the chroniclers of that time attribute to the rigid protocol that the Duke could not carry out these activities.

"I have seen many of the famous cities in the world, but I have never been welcomed in one so fascinating, and settled in such a wonderful setting as Quito," said Philip during a visit to the Quito town hall, before leaving for Galapagos.

GALAPAGOS VISIT

According to a New York Times note at the time, the main objective of the Prince's visit was to study the work of the Charles Darwin Biological Station, inaugurated in January 1964. The station seeks to prevent the extinction of many species of animals, reptiles and native birds of Galapagos.

Philip traveled several kilometers over the rugged volcanic terrain of several islands, and in commemoration of his visit, the steps of a rock formation on Genovesa Island were called “Prince Philip's Steps”.

This structure is extremely steep and according to traveler reviews, they take some effort to climb them [CNH Tours note:  They are not that bad frankly].  There have even been reports of tourists who have slipped and one fell into the sea.

Below:  Negotiating the Prince Philip's Steps on Genovesa Island

Finally, the Duke of Edinburgh set sail on the Yacht Britania for Panama, where he would spend two days.

After his visit, Prince Philip became a sponsor of the Charles Darwin Foundation, and in 2009 he unveiled this life-size bronze statue of Charles Darwin at the University of Cambridge.

In that same year, Prince Charles, son of Philip and Queen Elizabeth; and Duchess Camilla of Cornwall, were in the Galapagos as part of a tour of South America. Carlos took as a souvenir one of the famous Panama hats, which are actually made in Ecuador.

100% Vaccination in Galapagos by End May?

Published on Bloomberg yesterday (30 March).  Click here for the story on the Bloomberg website.

Ecuador is trying to get more bang for the buck from its scarce Covid-19 shots by vaccinating the entire adult population of the sparsely-populated Galapagos islands, the nation’s main tourist attraction.

Authorities are targeting a 100% immunization rate on the Pacific archipelago of 30,000 people by the end of May, Norman Wray, the top government official on the islands, said in an interview.

That is intended to help revive the islands’ $350 million-per-year tourism industry, even while the rest of the nation remains virtually unprotected, with fewer than 1% of the population inoculated so far.

The volcanic islands attract about 250,000 visitors in a normal year to see animals such as the huge Galapagos tortoise and the group of bird species known as Darwin’s finches. The waters are rich in marine life including dolphins and hammerhead sharks.

The amount tourists normally spend visiting the islands each year exceeds the $290 million the country is planning to spend on vaccines.

Vaccinating people on remote islands involves medical staff taking bumpy speedboat rides while the vaccines arrive by plane or helicopter to keep them cool and stable, Wray said.

The health ministry said it couldn’t confirm whether Galapagos residents will be inoculated by Wray’s target date.

Fees paid by tourists to enter the Galapagos National Park plunged 77% last year, and at the height of the crisis in May the park took in less than $100 in revenue for the whole month.

Ecuador’s economy shrank 11% last year according to the International Monetary Fund, making it among the worst-hit in the region by the pandemic. And the tourism-dependent islands fared especially badly.

At one point, many locals ran out of cash, and some were reduced to bartering fish for staples such as rice and diesel, according to Wray and local residents.

Giant Tortoise Heist is Foiled

Yesterday, while carrying out routine x-ray monitoring of luggage being loaded onto a commercial flight from Baltra (Galapagos) to Guayaquil in the mainland, the airport authorities noted very unusual shapes on their monitor.   They took the suitcase aside to inspect it.   Inside, carefully wrapped in plastic wrap (presumably to reduce the scent and avoid detection by sniffer dogs), the technicians found 185 baby giant tortoises – 10 of which had already perished.    

This was how Nixon Alejandro, a police officer, was caught trying to traffic Galapagos wildlife.  

The illegal wildlife trade is huge – in the many billions of dollars annually.   From rhino horns to pangolin scales, or colourful bird feathers, and even live tropical birds, fish and more.  It’s so big and the illegal proceeds finance so many nefarious groups that the United Nations set up the Convention on the International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES) in 1975 to provide global coordination in an effort to control it.  One well-know conservation organization, TRAFFIC, focuses exclusively on ensuring that wildlife trade is not a threat to the conservation of nature.  If you are keen on learning more, see their website here.  

This is not the first time that CNH Tours has covered cases of illegal wildlife trade in Galapagos.  For a summary, see this news story.   In it, we cover other cases of giant tortoise and iguana smuggling, along with the shark fin trade.

In a statement, the Galapagos National Park indicated that the baby tortoises did not come from its breeding centers – where each tortoise is meticulously traced.   If that is the case, then Mr Alejandro obtained these baby tortoises from the wild somewhere.  In a way, it’s a good sign – a sign that wild populations are breeding well.  However, one can presume that Mr. Alejandro was not operating alone – it would be quite an effort to collect and store so many tortoise on one’s one, without at least others taking notice.  CNH Tours certainly hopes the authorities will carry out an effective investigation and apprehend his collaborators, both in Galapagos and on the mainland.   

A lot of growing up to do still! 

Are Females Responsible for Male Beauty?

Biological evolution happens thanks to a process of natural selection for characteristics that improve an individual’s (or a population’s) ability to survive and reproduce.   One dromedary that has a slightly better ability to go days without water than another is more likely to survive the next prolonged drought, and to pass on its genes to the next generation. 

 This mechanism is at the root of all “evolution-by-natural-selection” talk.  

But, if that’s the case, why do so many animal species display what appear to be wildly extravagant features that may in fact REDUCE their chances of survival?   The classic example used by people wondering about this apparent contradiction is the male peacock’s tail – an extraordinarily beautiful, yet cumbersome appendage that in all likelihood only helps draw unwanted attention from predators. 

   

Darwin spent some time thinking about this contradiction.  He came up with his theory of sexual selection – whereby, in parallel to natural selection, another force was involved in shaping the genetic make-up of future generations (see his book:  “The descent of man and selection in relation to sex”.  He postulated that females chose more attractive males as defined by plumage, colour, song, courtship displays.   He concludes that females have an eye for aesthetics, and by selecting males with bigger and more colourful tails, they are responsible for the evolution of beauty.

The suggestion that animals could have an appreciation for features that had no effect on survival went against the grain of popular thinking in Darwin’s day, and continues today.   But the debate rages on.  

In Galapagos, you’ll notice male “beauty” in the marine iguanas (on Santa Fe, Española and Floreana islands), the lava lizards and in some of the birds (the Vermillion flycatcher for starters). 

Male marine iguanas on Santa Fe, Española and Floreana islands can get very colourful.

For more on this hotly contested subject, you may want to read:  "The Evolution of Beauty:  How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World - and Us", by Richard O. Prum.  The well-researched book was a finalist in the "General Fiction" 2018 Pulitzer prize awards. 

Anyone for Antarctica?

CNH Tours does not offer trips to a destination unless we have someone on the team who is an undisputed expert for that destination.   By "expert" we mean people who have been eating and breathing the destination for many years, and not just someone who has been on one or two familiarizaiton trips. 

We found our expert for Antarctica in Jane Wilson. Antarctica is in her blood - having had ancestors who were leaders in scientific work there - so much so that a medal in their honour is awarded to scientific achievement in their domain.   

Read more about Jane's background on our Antarctica Trip page here.   

Jane spent some time with us understanding the kind of people that typically approach CNH Tours for a Galapagos "trip of a lifetime".  We told her that our guests tended to be an inquisitive bunch, keen on getting the absolute most out of their trip, not afraid going the extra mile and of course, not at all averse to unmatched personalized service.   We asked her to identify what she considered a winning combination of ship and itinerary for our guests.



With that in mind, she identified a ship and two itinerary options that she assured us would fit perfectly with CNH Tours alumni.   

WHAT?

The "GRAND TOUR" - a 21 day itinerary from Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego, Argentina) to the Falkland Islands, on to South Georgia Islands (the Serengeti of Antarctica) and over to the Antarctic Peninsula.

OR

The "PENINSULAR EXPLORER" - a 13 day itinerary from Ushuaia, with a focus on the Antarctic Peninsula, home of spectacular land, sea and icescapes and diverse wildlife. 

WHEN?

We are focusing on two specific departures:  28 Jan – 17 Feb 2023 (Grand Tour) and 18 - 30 Jan 2023 (Peninsula Explorer).   We'll be sure that any issues around COVID-19 should be well and truly behind us by then.   

OUR SHIP?

The Island Sky - carrying 112 passengers, kayaks and even camping gear, it's large enough to be able to navigate icy and at times lively seas in comfort, and small enough not to lose the sense of intimacy you expect to have when visiting these very special and very remote places.



For the full details, prices and booking, see our dedicated Antarctica page here.   

If you're keen on travelling on other dates or other ships, please contact us and we'll start a conversation. 

 

Dolores Cacuango: Celebrating International Women's Day in Ecuador

The Ecuadorian embassy in Canada sent us a note today, in which they highlight the achievements of Dolores Cacuango to celebrate international women's day.   Here's the text of their message: 

 "Dolores Cacuagon (October 26, 1881 - April 23, 1971), also known as 'Mamá Doloreyuk' was born in a community of the northern Andes in Ecuador.  She was a pionneer in terms of fighting for the rights of indigenous people and peasants in Ecuador.  Cacuango stood out in the political arena and was one of the first activists of Ecuadorian feminism.  She, with other indigenous leaders, founded in 1944 the Ecuadorian Federation of Indians, the first of its class in Ecuador.  Also, she created the first bilingual school, Quichua - Spanish, in Ecuador."

For more information on the life of Dolores Cacuango, click here.  

Small Giants Retaking Deserted Island

CNH Tours is happy to share today's press release from the Galapagos National Park Service (we have edited for brevity)....   

But there is more behind this story than meets the eye.  While the National Park and its donor partner, the Galapagos Conservancy have carried out this work, the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) is not satisfied that there is incontrovertible evidence of giant tortoise populations on Santa Fe island in the past.   The CDRS has expressed reservations - particularly in regards to the native population of land iguanas on the island.  They indicate that giant tortoises may outcompete the land iguanas for food and nesting sites on this very dry island.  The CDRS feels that the introduction of giant tortoises there was premature.   

Such are the polemics that exist in the conservation world.  You will note that the Park indirectly addresses the CDRS concerns in the last paragraph of its press release.    

 

Press release - Galapagos National Park.  3 March 2021

191 giant tortoises released for the ecological restoration of Santa Fe Island


"The last phase of the process of introducing giant tortoises to Santa Fe was completed"

A group of 191 juvenile giant tortoises of the species (Chelonoidis hoodensis) were transferred from the breeding center in Santa Cruz and joined the population that has been introduced to Santa Fe Island since 2015, as part of the ecological restoration of this small island.  A total of 732 have been introduced to date.

Washington Tapia, director of the initiative, explained that “the introduction of 31 sub-adult turtles carried out at the beginning of 2020 and the high survival rate of juveniles of 99.8%, allowed to accelerate the process of establishing a reproductive population in the island, which was essential to effectively contribute to the process of restoring the ecological integrity and biodiversity of Santa Fe ”.

The transfer was carried out by 22 National Park rangers and scientists from the Galapagos Conservancy, who traveled approximately five kilometers from the landing site to the release zone in the center of this 24.7-square-kilometer island.

National Park director Danny Rueda explained that “the process of ecological restoration of the island began in the 70s with the eradication of goats, but in 2015 it took a new impulse with the introduction of turtles, a decision that was taken after a comprehensive evaluation of the island showed that its main herbivore was missing, because the population of land iguanas, despite being large, did not fulfill the same role as turtles in the ecosystem, especially in terms of their contribution to seed dispersal ”.

The project, since its inception, has included a rigorous development of annual monitoring, the results of which have shown that turtles have dispersed approximately 30% of the island's surface and that there is no competition for resources between turtles and iguanas that are actively contributing to seed dispersal, especially of Opuntia cacti. Which in other words means that they are fulfilling their role as ecosystem engineers, an aspect that will continue to be documented through the monitoring activities that will continue in the long term.

JOIN OUR GALAPAGOS SEMINAR: Origins and Conservation Challenges

One of our founders, Marc Patry, is giving a 45 minute presentation on Friday 15 March, 5PM EST ("Happy Hour" in Montreal, New York, Miami time).

If you're curious about WHY Galapagos is a globally iconic wildlife destination, how such an eclectic collection of odd animals arose there, and what the current challenges are to their conservation, this event is a good place to start finding some answers.  Interesting, dynamic and interactive - limited to 12 participants so that you have a chance to ask questions. 

Marc worked for the Charles Darwin Research Station in collaboration with the Galapagos National Park Service from 1998-2002 and is an elected member to the Charles Darwin Foundation's General Assembly. He was also the United Nations' point person overseeing the state of conservation of Galapagos under the World Heritage Convention, from 2003 - 2012.  Marc is an experienced public speaker and presenter.

Price is US$20.  Book your spot here:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/galapagos-history-and-conservation-challenges-tickets-142338074011

PIGS GONE – ORANGE REPTILES RETURN TO SANTIAGO

They are back.   Last spotted nearly 200 years ago, the Galapagos Land Iguana is staging a comeback.   Last week, the Galapagos National Park Service released a further 421 individuals on Santiago Island, further boosting numbers following the first re-introduction in 2019. 

Coincidentally, this is where Charles Darwin spent most of his time while in Galapagos in 1835.  He was the last person to report seeing them. According to Darwin, not one for diplomatic niceties: “From their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance”.   

"Singularly stupid appearance" (photo credit Peter Norvig)

Pigs are no friends of ours!

The original land iguana population, having inhabited the island for likely hundreds of thousands, if not well over a million years, were done in by pigs.  Pigs are very good a sniffing out iguana nests in search for tasty and nutritious eggs – and were thankfully absent in Galapagos until the late 1700’s, when whalers, having exhausted the easy catches in the Atlantic, started hunting in Pacific waters.   The whalers would “seed” islands with animals that would provide them with fresh meat on future expeditions.  Goats were a favourite – but pigs were also on the menu.

While it was clear that removing the goats and pigs from Santiago Island would be necessary for any successful re-introduction of the land iguana to Santiago Island, both the Galapagos National Park Services and its scientific advisory partner the Charles Darwin Research Station considered it an unachievable fantasy.  The large island (35km long, 25km wide – or about 21 miles x 15 miles) consisted of very rugged volcanic terrain with portions of thick, spiny brambles.   

Still, something had to be done.  In an effort to reduce their predation on the Giant Tortoises (older individuals still roamed the island, but they had no success in raising new generations thanks to the pigs’ appetite for their eggs as well), the Park started sending out regular hunting parties in 1972.   These groups of 12 or so nimble hunters would head off to Santiago island once or twice a year for 10-12 days, head off into the landscape and shoot pigs.   They returned, having reported shooting as little as a dozen pigs to as many as 800.  Over a 24 year period, the total number of pigs reported shot came to 18,903.  

Thanks to GPS technology and to new techniques to removing pigs, in parallel with several years of steady funding, the Park and the Darwin Station decided that total eradication could be possible.  They started a new campaign in 1998. After a lot of hard, work, the last sign of a pig on Santiago Island was observed in November 2000.  Subsequent monitoring missions found no further signs of pigs and the island was declared “pig free” in 2002.   That conservation success story opened the door to a land iguana re-introduction effort, the fruits of which we are witnessing today.   For more info on the pig eradication campaign, see my technical report written while I was working at the Darwin Station here

Iguana stampede on Santiago Island

International Travel: "Health Info as Vital as Passports"

A recent "The Economist" article (Well Travelled, 13th February 2021) reviews how health status of travellers may be monitored as we deal with COVID-19.  The article describes how good the air is in airplanes, and explains that today's travellers are more concerned about regulations / testing / quarantine issues on arrival, and less so about the safety of actually flying.  

It goes on to describe a variety of efforts underway to develop a digital vaccine passport.  "Such technologies will become common, reckons the world's biggest travel-security firm, International SOS".  

For the full article, click here.

Image:  The Economist

 

Insider Thoughts on Upcoming National Elections

We asked our good friend, the charming Fernando Ortiz, for his thoughts on the upcoming national elections in Ecuador.    Fernando is a long-time naturalist guide, organizer of the Galapagos Triathlon and father to two daughters and husband to another naturalist guide.   The first round takes place this Sunday, followed by a 2nd round for the 2 candidates having received the most votes, on 11 April.   In his words: 

 

2021 Presidential elections in Ecuador

By law, 48 hours prior to election day, there must be no politician´s propaganda to give citizens quiet time to reflect on our vote. But until then the blaring, screaming, chanting, squealing, lying, empty promising and dream (nightmare?) weaving is noisy, relentless and furious.

Ecuador is in dire straits.  8 years of surfing the previously High Priced Oil Wave (Ecuador´s main export), mortgaging the country´s future at mafioso interest rates, followed by an awakening to a sudden low-price commodities reality and a huge mounting debt to honour, plus corruption at levels never ever seen in our republican life, have taken us into a deep hole, made deeper by Corona virus and its consequences.  Using a sadly fashionable comparison, Ecuador is in an Intensive Care Unit, surviving out of the money the IMF is puffing into our lungs.

There are 16 (!!!) presidential wannabes. It is either a display of selfish bravery (Who wants that job?!?)  or foolish bravado.  According to polls, 13 of them are such unknowns that they will only be receiving votes from their closest relatives and friends. 

Three of them are fighting for the first 2 places to go to a second round.  

The final run-off vote (11 April) will be in between a populist candidate sponsored by the very same guy that took Ecuador into its darkest hours, or a banker who represents everything the left-wing camp recognizes as evil (self-made, rich, conservative). The third one is a long-haired saxophone player, articulate but not bright... idealist, almost new to politics but surprisingly popular amongst certain ethnic groups.

I love democracy even though it is not perfect.  I like to think that my ballot is worth the same as everybody else´s.  I just wish my people would realize that neither legislation nor politicians are going to give us anything that has not being produced through our own efforts and honest sweat.  Do not trust freebies, they cannot last forever.  We all should be rowing in the same direction.  Wish and demand for an honest job, safe streets and room for working towards a healthy, green, plausible future.  Not only for my compatriots, but for mankind.

Election day is Sunday the 7th. Fingers crossed……

 

Record-Breaking Weekend Ahead in Ecuador

Ecuador will elect its new president on Sunday, February 7

As never before in the history of this country, Ecuador will have to choose between 16 presidential candidates. 16? Yes, that´s right! A really big number of candidates.

There is a wide range of personalities amongst the candidates: businessmen, bankers, an indigenous representative, a Church pastor, and even a singer. 

Unfortunately, there is no electronic voting in Ecuador, and since voting is mandatory in our country, all citizens, between 18 to 65 years old, must go to vote on Sunday. However, it is estimated that there could be a lot of absences due to the pandemic.

Special advanced voting taking place at people's homes (Photo credit: CNE via El Universo newspaper)

On Thursday, the voting was carried out in prisons and on Friday some elderly people, or people with severe disabilities, voted at home. This is a special service offered to people who want to vote, but due to different circumstances, they cannot go to the voting locations on Sunday.

Due to the pandemic, the authorities have established some protocols to follow:

  • More places have been designated as voting locations. In this way, they want to avoid crowds.
  • All people must wear a mask, bring their own pen and their own hand sanitizer bottle
  • It´s not mandatory, but it´s a suggestion that people whose identity card ends in an even number, vote in the morning; those with an odd number vote in the afternoon
  • It is recommended not to bring children to the voting locations
  • Only the person who is going to vote, will be able to enter the voting location

According to the polls, the candidates with the best chance of winning are Guillermo Lasso, who represents the center-right, and Andrés Arauz, who is the candidate of the political group of the ex-president Rafael Correa – defenders of the famous socialism of the 21st century. 

So, Sunday will be a very decisive day for Ecuador. As an Ecuadorian, I can only hope that we all vote with our conscience, and thinking about the future of our beloved country.

 

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