Ancient giant tortoise happily munches away on his breakfast

This tortoise is estimated to be 200 years old. He is one of a population of ancient creatures that live on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos. Protected, the animals roam freely and enjoy a harmonious existence with the people who share their home with the tortoises. Even visitors are gently reminded of the rules that prevent our human presence from impacting these beautiful creatures. The Galapagos tortoise is the largest living species of tortoise, capable of reaching 417kg (919lbs). They can live almost 200 years. To put that in perspective, some of the tortoise seen roaming the islands today might actually have been alive when Charles Darwin made his historic voyage aboard the HMS Beagle in the early 1800s. It was his time on these islands, along with the discoveries he made, that led him to the famous theory of evolution that has changed the way we view the world, and the way we view ourselves. Galapagos tortoises are vegetarians. They eat almost anything green and they consume a large amount of food daily. But they are also capable of storing food and water in such quantities that they can last almost a full year with eating or drinking anything at all. Galapagos tortoises rely on their shell for defence. They retreat inside and pull in their armour plated appendages to shield their vulnerable areas. They are incredibly strong and prying their legs away from their heads is impossible. They can also outwait any predator by staying in their shells until the other animal gets tired of waiting. A predator would literally starve or die of dehydration before the turtle needed to emerge. The Galapagos Islands are relatively new, in geological terms. Formed by volcanic eruptions, the islands are between 8 and 90 million years old. The first animals came here from other continents, arriving by sea or by air, but the distance made it nearly impossible for land dwellers to bridge the gap. It is believed that tortoises made the journey when they were caught on floating rafts of vegetation adrift on the currents. Tortoises could survive at sea for a much greater length of time than most animals. The Galapagos tortoise is an iconic creature that has come to symbolize the Galapagos Islands. No trip here is complete without a close up view of these magnificent and impressive beasts.

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