On the night of Sept. 24, 123 giant tortoise hatchlings were stolen from the Arnaldo Tupiza breeding center on Isabela, the largest island in the Galápagos. The hatchlings belonged to two species, the Cerro Azul (Chelonoidis vicina) and Sierra Negra (Chelonoidis guntheri) giant tortoises, the Ministry of Environment of Ecuador said in a statement. Both species are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. The theft is under investigation by the Galápagos attorney general’s office, the ministry said, and they are withholding further information “to avoid obstruction of the work of the competent authorities.”
Native to the Galápagos Islands, the Galápagos giant tortoises have experienced a severe population decline over the past decades, caused mainly by hunting for meat and oil, the introduction of non-native animals like goats, rats and pigs to the islands, and agricultural expansion.