I hatched on a sunny afternoon in 1911. Around the world, important things were happening. Machu Picchu, the legendary lost city of the Inca, was discovered deep in a Peruvian jungle a few weeks before I crawled out of the sand: a few weeks later Italy and Turkey went to war over possession of Libya. But I had no way of knowing these things as I made my way to a shady spot on Pinta Island with my four fellow hatchlings. I just knew that there was a whole island for me to explore.
I grew up on Pinta, northernmost of the Galapagos Islands, far away from people. My friends were swallow-tailed gulls, lava lizards and my fellow tortoises: if I went down to the water I could see the sea lions playing in the water and the marine iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks. When I was little, I had to keep one eye open for the hawks that circled far above, but once I was a little bigger and my shell was strong I feared them no more. I was frightened of no animal, really: once I was safe from the hawks, there were no more predators I had to fear…or so I thought.
Humans came to the island from time to time, and they often carried off my friends and family with them. I didn’t know why they did, but I suspected that it was for no good reason, so I always hid in the shade when they came. It seems every day there were fewer and fewer of my friends left. It didn’t help that the goats were there: I remember seeing them for the first time, hairy beasts that ate all of our food. We hated them because they were so quick and nimble: there was no way we could ever beat them to a tasty snack.
It got very lonely on the island. One day, a ship came and took the last of my fellow tortoises. I explored the island but it was as I had feared: I was alone.
Many years went by and I filled my time as best I knew how: I ate cactus pads and other vegetation, I lounged in the shade or in the mud (when I could find some: Pinta is very dry) and I looked around the island for my friends and family, always with no luck.
It was in 1971 that some scientists came to the island. I tried to hide, but they saw me. I was afraid they would take me away, but they didn’t. A few weeks later, some more humans came, and this time they did take me away. I was afraid they would eat me, like they had so many of my companions, but these people were different. I could hear them talking. They said they were taking me to the Charles Darwin Research Station and that I was a very special tortoise. They said they had given up hope of finding anyone like me. They looked for more tortoises, but I could have told them they were wasting their time.
At the Charles Darwin Research Station, I was given the royal treatment. I was kept around like a pet, given food and water, and the scientists talked to me. There were no goats, and best of all, there were other tortoises! They were from other islands, so they talked with funny accents, but I was still glad to see them. They even put a couple of them in the pen with me, lady tortoises from Isabela Island. Once, one of them even laid some eggs (I’m proud to say) but unfortunately they didn’t hatch. My scientist friends seem to hope that I’ll continue having eggs with the Isabela ladies, but I don’t know. I wish there was another Pinta tortoise like me here.
Meanwhile, I’m living the life of a celebrity! Prince Charles of England came to see me, and so did Leonardo DiCaprio, Chevy Chase and a whole bunch of other famous people. Every day, hundreds of people walk past my pen, just to look at me. I still like to lounge in the shade, so sometimes they don’t see me, but they all come nevertheless. People from all over the world! I get all the food I want, I have other tortoises to keep me company, and best of all, I haven’t seen a single goat in forty years.
The scientists have told me that they’re looking for more Pinta Island tortoises for me, and I hope they find one. They say there might be one in someplace called Prague, and that there might be one on Isabela. It would be great to see one of my old friends again!