Ecuador and Galapagos News

The splendor of La Compania Church of Quito

The Church of The Compania of Jesus in Quito has been catalogued by UNESCO among the hundred most important World Heritage Site Monuments in the world. After an integral restoration, which took 12 years at a cost of 4.5 million dollars, this magnificent temple was reopened to the public the second week of December, and can now be viewed in its entire splendor.

The building of this Colonial jewel started in 1605 and was finished in 1650. The restoration was both structural and artistic, in its 4500 square meters. Its interior, entirely gilded, shines like a jewel and its paintings, sculptures, altars, cupola and pulpit have been carefully illuminated so that all details can be appreciated.

There are 44 paintings and 56 sculptures of the School of Art of Quito. Among the most important paintings are those of the 16 Prophets by Nicolas Gorivar in the central columns and the large ones depicting the Final Judgment and Hell at each side of the entrance.

The church is a magnificent example of the extraordinary artistic ability of the Ecuadorian artisans; with profusely carved altars covered with gold leaf, and the sculptures by Legarda of the Holy Trinity in the main altar and Saint Ignacio and Saint Francis in the side altars. The Compania of Jesus is the best sample of the American Baroque, one of the richest and most extraordinary temples of South America.

Darwin’s finches highlight the unity of all life

When Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands in October 1835, he and his ship-mates on board HMS Beagle collected specimens of birds, including finches and mockingbirds, from various islands of the archipelago.

At the time, Darwin took little interest in the quaint finches, making only a one-word mention of them in his diary. As painstakingly shown by Frank Sulloway and more recently by John Van Whye, it wasn’t until two years later that the finches sparked Darwin’s interest.

By then he had received feedback from the leading taxonomist of the time, John Gould, that the samples comprised 14 distinct species, none of which had been previously described! Gould also noted that their “principal peculiarity consisted in the bill [i.e. beak] presenting several distinct modifications of form”.

So intrigued was Darwin by this variation in size and shape of beaks that in the second (1845) edition of Journal of Researches he included illustrations of the distinctive variation between species in the size and shape of their beaks. He added a comment that:

“Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends”.

Wildlife as Unique as The Islands Themselves

All of the islands in the Galápagos are unique, differing in landscape, plant life, and animals. Most islands have species and foliage that are exclusive to that particular island and not found anywhere else on earth. Animals in the Galápagos do not fear humans, which at first is hard to wrap your head around. But with few predators on the islands, the animals live in leisure.

They are fascinating creatures, living in perfect harmony, and are ever-evolving and making use of what each island offers. For example, on Isabela you’ll see sea lions napping on (yes, literally on!) marine iguanas, both of them living alongside crabs, cormorants, Galápagos penguins and blue footed boobies.

San Cristóbal, meanwhile, features thundering mountains built up by years of volcanic ash on one side of the island, and the most picture-perfect, sea lion-clad beaches on the opposite side. There are islands like Floreana, whose waters are so crystal clear that you can see sharks, sea turtles and rays swimming in the bay from atop the Baroness’s lookout, and later snorkel with playful groups of sea lions at Post Office Bay.

The enchanted isles are just that, a safe haven for all those who live and visit the Galápagos. While I may have been amiss thinking that I had landed on Mars, the Galápagos does feel like a fantasy land, but not another planet exactly—more like Eden. They are like no other place on earth, and I hope it remains this way forever.

81 tortoises hatch at the Isabela Tortoise Center

From the archive, 3 October 1838: Darwin’s miniature primeval monsters

According to the Galapagos National Park Directorate, 81 giant tortoises have hatched since November from the 2016 nesting season at the Arnaldo Tupiza Giant Tortoise Center on Isabela Island. The tortoise hatchlings are from two species: Chelonoidis guntheriandChelonoidis vicina — from the two southern volcanoes of Isabela Island, Sierra Negra and Cerro Azul.

Galapagos giant tortoises nest between June and December each year. These two species lay between 8 and 16 eggs per nest. The incubation period lasts from 90 to 120 days. Newly-hatched tortoises are transferred to a dark box that replicates the few weeks to a month that the hatchlings remain in their underground nest in the wild, during which time any remaining yolk sac is completely absorbed, before digging an exit hole and emerging. After 30 days in the dark box, the young tortoises are transferred to outdoor corrals, where they are regularly monitored.

Tortoises spend approximately five years at the Breeding Center, after which they are ready to be returned to their natural habitat. This gives them a jump-start, as the highest mortality of tortoises in the wild is in their first few years. The Isabela Center currently has 702 tortoises, including 65 reproductive adults. Thanks to this program managed by the Park at their three tortoise centers (Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristóbal), nearly 7,000 tortoises have been repatriated to their island of origin across the Archipelago.

Darwin’s miniature primeval monsters

From the archive, 3 October 1838: Darwin’s miniature primeval monsters

Marine iguanas found by Darwin on the Galapagos Islands confirm the existence of sea-dwelling dinosaurs

The following passage from Lyell’s Elements of Geology may startle many - an account of miniature primeval monsters yet existing in

“Some bright little isles of their own, In a blue summer ocean far off and alone.”

The author has been describing the gigantic creatures whose fossils attest their existence. “For the last twenty years’ anatomists have agreed that these extinct saurians must have inhabited the sea, although no living reptile was known. They argued, that, as there are now chelonians, like the tortoise, living in fresh water, and others, as the turtle, frequenting the ocean, so they may have been formerly some saurians proper to salt, others to fresh water. The recent discovery, however, of a maritime saurian has now rendered it unnecessary to speculate on such possibilities.

“This creature was found in the Galapagos Islands, during the visit of H. M. S. Beagle to that archipelago in 1835; and its habits were then observed by Mr. Darwin. The islands alluded to are situated under the equator, nearly six hundred miles on the westward of the coast of South America. They are volcanic, some of them being three thousand or four thousand feet high; and one of them, Albemarle Island, seventy-five miles long. The climate is mild, very little rain falls, and, in the whole archipelago, there is only one rill of fresh water that reaches the coast. The soil is for the most part dry and harsh, and the vegetation scanty.

“The birds, reptiles, plants, and insects, are, with very few exceptions, of species found nowhere else in the world, although all partake in their general form of an American character. Of the Mammalia, says Mr. Darwin, one species alone appears to be indigenous - a large and peculiar kind of mouse; but the great number of lizards, tortoises, and snakes is so great, that it may be called a land of reptiles. The variety, indeed, of species is small; but the individuals of each are in wonderful abundance. There is a turtle, a large tortoise (Testudo indicus), four lizards, and about the same number of snakes, but no frogs or toads.

“Two of the lizards belong to the family Iguanidae of Bell, and to a peculiar genus (Amblyrhynchus) established by that naturalist, and so named for their obtusely truncated head and short snout. Of these lizards, one is terrestrial in its habits, and burrows in the ground, swarming everywhere on the land - having a round tail and a mouth somewhat resembling in form that of the tortoise; the other is aquatic, and has its tail flattened laterally for swimming.

“This marine saurian, says Mr. Darwin, ‘is extremely common on all the islands throughout the archipelago. It lives exclusively on the rocky sea-beaches, and I never saw one even ten yards in-shore. The usual length is about a yard, but there are some even four feet long. It is of a dirty black color; sluggish in its movements on the land, but, when in the water, it swims with perfect ease and quickness, by a serpentine movement of its body and flattened tail, the legs during this time being motionless, and closely collapsed on its sides. Their limbs and strong claws are admirably adapted for crawling over the rugged and fissured masses of lava which everywhere form the coast. In such situations a group of six or seven of these hideous reptiles may oftentimes be seen on the black rocks, a few feet above the surf, basking in the sun with outstretched legs.”

How To Enter Ecuador

Entry/Exit Requirements for U.S. Citizens

If you are a U.S. citizen wishing to enter Ecuador, you must present a U.S. passport with at least six months remaining validity. Ecuadorian immigration officials also sometimes request evidence of return or onward travel, such as an airline ticket.

Under Ecuadorian law, U.S. citizens traveling for business or tourism on a tourist passport can enter Ecuador for up to 90 days per calendar year without a visa. Extensions for up to another 90 days can be requested through the provincial migration offices.

If you are planning a visit longer than 90 days, you must obtain a visa in advance of your arrival.

Body of tortoise 'Lonesome George' returned to Galapagos Islands

The embalmed body of the giant tortoise known as Lonesome George—the last known member of a species that was wiped out with his death in 2012—returned home to the Ecuadoran Galapagos Islands.

The body arrived in Puerto Ayora, the capital of the archipelago's Santa Cruz Island, on an Ecuadoran military plane after undergoing taxidermy work at New York's American Museum of Natural History, the Galapagos National Park said.

The giant tortoise—thought to be around a century old when he died in June 2012—was the last known member of the subspecies Geochelone nigra abingdoni.

He failed to reproduce despite a decades long conservation effort that earned him the moniker "Lonesome George."

His body will go on display at the park starting February 23, after having starred in an exhibition at the New York museum from September 2014-January 2015.

The Pacific island chain is famous for its unique flora and fauna studied by Charles Darwin as he developed his theory of evolution.

Of the 15 species of giant tortoise known to have originated in the Galapagos, three, including George's, have gone extinct—victims of plundering 18th-century pirates who damaged the islands' fragile ecosystem.

Scientists identify new Galapagos giant tortoise species

A team of Ecuadoran and international scientists said on Wednesday they have identified a new giant tortoise species on the Galapagos Islands.

There are only a few hundred members of the new species, Ecuador's environment ministry said in a statement.

Experts had long believed that the two giant tortoise populations on the Santa Cruz island were of the same species, but genetic tests have shown that those living on the eastern side of the island are different, the statement read.

The researchers, led by Gisella Caccone from Yale University, baptized the new species "Chelonoidis donfaustoi," in honor of Fausto Llerena, the caretaker of Lonesome George, a male Pinta Island tortoise and the last known survivor of his species.

"We estimate that there are 250 or 300 creatures of this species," Ecuadoran scientist Washington Tapia, who participated in the research, told AFP.

Research began in 2002 when two scientists thought that "due to the formation of the shell, these tortoises should belong to a different species."

Then, Tapia said, scientists analyzed genetic samples taken from the animals.

"In 2005 the preliminary results already suggested that we were dealing with a different species," Tapia said.

The shell is indeed different from other tortoises, but "the main difference is at the genetic level," he said.

The head of the Galapagos National Park, Alejandra Ordonez, said that research on the new species continues "to determine their exact distribution on the island, their nesting areas, and potential threats."

With this find, experts now believe that 15 species of tortoise lived on the islands, including four that are extinct.

In 1979 the Natural Reserve became UNESCO's first World Heritage Site.

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