World Animal Day in the Galapagos: A Quick Guide to the Islands Iconic Species
Why do we care about World Animal Day in the Galapagos? It’s so easy to get caught up in our daily lives that we tend to forget where we come from. We are not alone on this planet Earth, as we sometimes think we are; and we do not own it even though we might act as we do. We share this planet with many other species besides our own, and we need only look around us to realize how uneven the balance of life is.
Our species evolved until we became the top predator in the food chain, which might have made us feel superior to every living thing below us. And yet, we only need to stop for a second to realize that every single thing plays a specific role on Earth: from the invisible atom to the moss growing on trees all the way to the giant humpback whale. As top predators, we also have the power to become top protectors, especially because we can see beyond our instincts.
As humans, we have the ability to analyze our actions and measure their potential consequences, and the first step in doing so is becoming aware of this. To celebrate this World Animal Day, we invite our guests – either in a Galapagos cruise, at Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel, or in Quito’s beautiful Casa Gangotena or Mashpi Lodge – to start by getting acquainted with some of the planet’s most unique animal species that can only be seen in the Galapagos Islands, specifically: the GALAPAGOS BIG15 group of iconic species. Read along and fall in love with their uniqueness and contribute to their conservation by choosing sustainable tour operators and spreading the word about how important it is to protect their fragile environment!
The Galapagos albatross is a critically endangered species that only breeds on the island of Española and boasts the title of “Biggest Bird in the Archipelago.” Guests can check out the spectacular mating dance of this monogamous species from January to March.
This Galapagos favorite is known not only for the intense blue hue of its feet (it’s actually the more turquoise shades that attract the females, as it is a sign of their health) but also for its quirky demeanour on land. And don’t be fooled! It might walk funny, but it’s a torpedo when it comes to flying and hunting in the sea.
This masked booby is also the most competitive of the three when it comes to their nesting territories, often fighting with other booby species as well as their own. Due to their limited distribution, any severe change in weather patterns can greatly affect their numbers. Fortunately, they are not a threatened species.
Because they forage over open waters, red-footed boobies can only be seen at a couple of spots on the outskirts of the archipelago. They are the smallest of the three booby species of the Galapagos and, unlike their cousins who nest on flat surfaces, red-footed boobies are often found nesting up on branches or in bushes.
In order to deal with the harsh conditions in Galapagos, this rare species gained adaptations that turned it into an apt swimmer (rather than a flyer) in order to have access to the more abundant sources of nourishment underwater. Aside from penguins, this is the only bird species that has lost its ability to fly and can only be seen on the western islands of Galapagos.
The American Flamingo, a bird species found usually only in the Caribbean, is also found in the Galapagos archipelago, hence its rarity. Its pink colour is the result of a diet rich in carotenoids – like those found on shrimp – which are later metabolized by a gland that is located near the base of their tails.
FRIGATE BIRD (GREAT AND MAGNIFICENT)
The Galapagos is the only place on earth where both species of frigate birds – great and magnificent – coexist, mainly because they don’t compete for feeding areas. The iconic, red pouches of these birds take an average of 30-minutes to inflate – an effort made on behalf of the males to impress all the female frigate birds!
The Galapagos hawks is the Galapagos’ main predator, but it’s a vulnerable species. Even though it has no natural enemies on the archipelago, many human-introduced species started competing with it for food and space.
These resident herbivores that are as ubiquitous as beaches in Galapagos can live up to an impressive 60 years of age. They can also survive on very little water, if tough times call for it.
Marine iguanas – unique to the Galapagos Islands – lay their eggs under the sand of numerous beaches throughout the Galapagos. The determining factor behind the gender of each hatchling? Temperature! Cool temperatures give way to male marine iguanas, while hotter temperatures produce female iguanas.
SANTA FE LAND IGUANA
This endemic iguana is exclusive to the island of Santa Fe in Galapagos. It carries a more brownish colour, smaller dorsal fins and a tapered snout.
Galapagos penguins – the smallest of their species – are the only penguins found north of the equator and form monogamous bonds for life.
GALAPAGOS SEA LION
Sea lions have the remarkable ability to delay the time of birth of their pups until environmental conditions are optimal. The process is known as delayed implantation and it used as a reproductive strategy not only by them, but by other terrestrial mammals too.
GALAPAGOS FUR SEAL
Fur seals in Galapagos demonstrate some of the longest nursing periods of all fur seals, sometimes lasting up to one or two years! Talk about being pampered!
GALAPAGOS GIANT TORTOISE
DNA evidence has shown that the closest living relative to the Galapagos tortoise is the Chaco tortoise, native to Argentina and Paraguay. The Galapagos giant tortoise is believed to have floated from the mainland all the way to the volcanic islands some 5 million years ago. How did they do it? Their natural buoyancy made the 620-mile ocean journey much easier, as did their extendable necks which they used like periscopes for oxygen.
If you wish to contribute to this wonderful cause and learn more about World Animal Day, visit www.worldanimalday.org.uk
Nathalie Moeller is of Ecuadorian and German descent. As a child she spent her summers in the Galapagos Islands, where her mother grew up, and from a very young age learned to love the beauty and uniqueness of the archipelago. She studied Journalism and Humanities in Barcelona, after living in Madrid and Germany for a couple of years. This gave her a culturally broader view of the world, which is reflected in everything she does. Blogging gives her the opportunity to combine her passion for travelling and writing.