The Galápagos tortoise is found on the Galápagos Islands west of Ecuador in South America. The shape of the carapace of some subspecies of the tortoises reminded the Spanish explorers of a kind of saddle they called a "galápago," and for these saddle-shaped tortoises they named the archipelago. As many as 250,000 tortoises inhabited the islands when they were discovered. Today only about 15,000 are left (according to estimates by the Charles Darwin Foundation and Galapagos National Park Service), mainly due to harvest by whalers and pirates that killed them for food during the 18th and 19th centuries. Turned on their backs so they could not move, the Galápagos tortoise could survive for months without food or water, making them a good source of fresh meat on a whaling ship (before refrigeration). Their diluted urine could also be used as drinking water. In addition, non-native species such as goats were introduced on some islands resulting in destruction of the vegetation that comprises the tortoises' diet; the resulting habitat loss further diminished the tortoise population.
The Galápagos tortoise (or Galápagos giant tortoise), is the largest living tortoise, endemic to nine islands of the Galápagos archipelago. Adults of large subspecies can weigh over 300 kilograms (660lb) and measure 1.2 meters (4 ft) long. Although the maximum life expectancy of a wild tortoise is unknown, the average life expectancy is estimated to be 150-200 years.
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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Galápagos tortoise".