The Islands

History of Galapagos “Discovery”
In 1535, en route to Peru, Tomas de Berlanga, Bishop of Panama was carried by a westerly current and accidentally bumped into the Galapagos Islands. Because of their rocky landscape and lack of water, the Spanish paid little attention to the islands and referred to them as ‘Las Encantadas’ or bewitched islands. However, European and English pirates, sailors and buccaneers found them to be a useful hideaway. It is thought that the first dogs and cats found their way to Galapagos aboard pirate ships.

Tortoises Decimated
In the early 1800, pirates were replaced by whaler and seal hunters. In addition to decimating the seal and whale populations, tortoises were also killed in huge numbers and used for food. In 1846 it was reported that none at all were left on Floreana, Santa Fe or Rabida. The killing of tortoises for their oil (to light street lamps among other uses) continued into the early years of the 20th century, by which time the populations of Floreana and Fernandina had disappeared, and those on most of the other islands were severely reduced.

Darwin’s Arrival
Ecuador annexed the Galapagos Islands in 1832 and only a few years later in 1835 when the HMS Beagle arrived with Charles Darwin on board. Darwin’s study of species on four islands in just five short weeks led to development of his theory on natural selection presented in The Origin of Species.

European and Ecuadorian Settlers
Following World War I, a number of Europeans found their way to Galapagos, most notably Norwegians and two German families, the he Wittmers on Floreana and the Angermeyers on Santa Cruz. After the World War II a larger number of Ecuadorians came to the islands to fish and farm. Both European and Ecuadorian settlers brought dogs and cats with them, as well as other non-native animals such as cows, donkeys and goats.

Tourists
The arrival of tourists to the islands in the 1960′s also brought economic prosperity. More Ecuadorians moved from the mainland to the islands because of the higher standard of living there. Conservation and Word Heritage Status While 97% of the land base had been declared a National Park in 1937, it wasn’t until 1968 that the Ecuadorian Government established the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS) to protect the flora and fauna of the islands.

In 1978 the Galapagos were designated as the first World Heritage site, and when the Galapagos Marine Reserve was established in 1998, that too was designated a World Heritage Site. The islands are also a
Biosphere Reserve, a Whale Sanctuary, and a RAMSAR site.

In 2007, the World Heritage Committee inscribed Galapagos on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage Sites in Danger.

The Future
Today, there are more than 25,000 permanent residents living on four of the islands. The islands are also visited by more than 145,000 tourists every year. There are now thousands of invasive plant and animal species on the islands.  As human population and tourism continue to grow, so do dog and cat populations and pressure on the biological diversity of the archipelago.