of the Origin of Captive Galapagos Tortoises
A great number of the Galapagos tortoises that are
currently in captivity were taken off of various islands
in Galapagos early in the 20th century and brought
to North America. Many of them were taken off the
largest island, Isabella. Isabella is home to several
different races of giant tortoises, and, like the
tortoises from other islands in Galapagos, each race
has developed different physical characteristics that
have allowed it to thrive in its particular habitat.
In order to preserve the genetic makeup of each race
of tortoise, including their unique physical characteristics,
a genetic study was undertaken by Dr. Ed Louis, formerly
of Scott Davis' lab at Texas A & M University.
With grant funds obtained by Gladys Porter
Zoo, and using molecular techniques designed to determine
the genetic fingerprint of each race of wild tortoise,
Dr. Louis, presently the Conservation Geneticist from
Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, was able to identify
the origin of the giant tortoises in captivity. As
the result of this project, zoos and private owners
of Galapagos tortoises are cooperatively pairing their
adult animals with mates of the same race. Specific
animals are being moved from one animal collection
to another, in hopes that offspring from animals of
known origin will be produced.
Several institutions, including
the Gladys Porter Zoo, now have breeding pairs of
"like" individuals, and babies are being
produced. As the result of this work, two separate
races of giant tortoise have already hatched here.
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