Determination 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.