On the road to recovery: Darwin's Galapagos tortoise threatened with extinction now number more than 1,000
Pioneering breeding programme has saved the iconic speciesNumbers had fallen to as low as 15 in the 1970sInspired Charles Darwin's theories of evolution
11:16 GMT, 15 December 2012
In the 1970s there were just 15 Galapagos tortoises left in the world.
But now it appears that the tide has turned for the rare creatures and thanks to a successful breeding programme there are more than 1,000 on the islands.
The tortoises which helped inspire Charles Darwin's theories of evolution were virtually extinct – but thanks to pioneering work the future looks much less bleak.
Road to recovery: A young tortoise at the Fausto Llerena Breeding Centre in Galapagos National Park where a successful breeding programme has seen numbers rise to more than 1,000
There are now thought to be more than 1,000 tortoises on the islands of Santa Cruz, Santiago, Pinzen, and Espanola.
Conservationists began a unique project to return the environment back to the time when Darwin first visited the Galapagos in the mid 19th Century.
The group of rocky, volcanic islands 600 miles west of mainland Ecuador are a Unesco world natural heritage site and home to dozens of species found nowhere else.
Some 95 per cent of the territory's 3,000 sq miles is a protected area.
Endangered: The giant tortoise, seen here feeding on a prickly pear, was almost wiped out after the arrival of humans to the Galapagos islands
Success: Conservationists say there are now more than 1,000 giant tortoises on the Galapagos islands following a successful breeding and repatriation programme
Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos islands during his five-year voyage around South America which set sail in 1831.
He was fascinated by the giant tortoise and in particular noted the difference in the shape of their shells between the different species on each island.
It helped him understand how animals adapt to their environment and inspire his theories of evolution which shook the scientific world when they were published in 1859.
Inspiring: Tortoise eggs in an incubation pod as part of the successful breeding programme which has helped save the iconic giant tortoise from extinction
Theory: Charles Darwin became fascinated by the giant tortoise and noted the difference between the shells of different species. This helped him understand how animals adapt to their environment
But the iconic species was all but wiped out by the actions of the human population throughout the 20th century.
After running out of tortoises to eat, sailors introduced goats to the island and their numbers multiplied rapidly, destroying the island's vegetation.
The remaining tortoises had to be taken into a captive breeding environment while the goat population was culled.
But there is renewed hope that the giant tortiose will flourish now that tortoise numbers have risen and the species appears to have become part of the ecosystem once again.