Ecuador nature

Articles in ‘Ecuador nature’

Thousands of tortoises stolen from the Galapagos Islands

August 6th, 2011

That’s what the headline might’ve read if the 19th century world had been more concerned with conservation.  The Galapagos Islands were treated as a supply station by ships, particularly whaling vessels, which had most reason to pass through the eastern Pacific. The sailors would go onshore and help themselves to vast numbers of the giant tortoises – the same species that fascinated Darwin, helping him shape his theory of evolution, and gave the islands their name ( Spanish galápago – tortoise).  The ability of the tortoises  to survive for a long time without food or water meant they were a convenient source of fresh meat on the interminable sea voyages of the era.

The tortoises were easy to catch but heavy to carry so the smaller sized females were disproportionately taken – another factor contributing to their decline. In 1813, the Essex of the US navy reportedly carried off as many as 4 tons of tortoises.

The Galapagos Tortoises in their relation to the whaling industry by Charles Townsend includes an account of a seaman who landed on the islands in 1865:

Many huge turtles had carved on their backs the name of some whaling ship and a date of years before. I have often heard tell that a vessel went over from Panama with two donkeys and procured terrapin so large that two of them weighed 2,200 lbs. We had brought long iron poles with us and we lashed the terrapins’ legs together, slung them on the poles and so carried them back to the ship – one man on each end of the pole. We valued them very much for fresh meat. I don’t think anything ever tasted much better than fried terrapin liver. One thing we used to feed the turtles on board ship was bananas.

However, the greatest impact on the tortoise population was made when humans began to settle in the “the lonely archipelago”, with their accompanying domestic animals. Numbers dropped from over 250,000 in the 16th century to a low of around 3,000 in the 1970s.  Conservation efforts involving breeding programs and culling of introduced species have brought about a small recovery to around 20,000.

Cotopaxi by Frederic Edwin Church

July 19th, 2009

Frederic Edwin Church, 'Cotopaxi' (1862)

Cotopaxi in Ecuador is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. It was painted magificently in 1861-2 by Frederic Edwin Church. Church was inspired by the natural history writings of Alexander von Humboldt, and his 1845 treatise Kosmos.  In the second volume of Kosmos, Humboldt included a chapter on the influence of landscape painting on the study of the natural world—ranking that art among the highest expressions of the love of nature —and challenging artists to portray the “physiognomy” of the landscape. Church retraced Humboldt’s travels in South America.

From the excellent Vulcanisn blog Church visited South America twice, in 1853 and 1857, and was inspired by the mountains and volcanoes of the northern Andes to paint some of his greatest landscapes. Cotopaxi, which Humboldt had discussed at some length and which was one of the most aesthetically striking volcanoes of the region, as well as being one of the most active and formidable, was a natural subject for his art. Church’s earlier paintings of Cotopaxi depicted the volcano’s snowy cone rising placidly above a lush tropical landscape, steam rising gently from its summit, a living but benign presence. The painting shown here, executed in 1861-2, has a very different atmosphere. In this other-wordly scene we are presented with a staggering display of nature’s power, as the volcano violently erupts against a blood-red sunset, exploding upwards and spreading its dark smoke like a banner across the sky.


Church takes the volcano as a display of nature’s power and intensifies every aspect of it to suggest a cataclysmic conflict between the forces of darkness and those of light. All around are evidences of vast, incomprehensible energies: the roaring volcano, the blazing sun, the huge waterfall plunging into a rocky canyon, whose steep sides represent vast stretches of geological time. Yet the green foliage of the trees, the sparkling waters, the light of the sun penetrating the ashy gloom of the volcano’s clouds, indicate that even these awe-inspiring forces are ultimately under the control of a beneficent providence. Cotopaxi embodies the great natural energies driving the forces not only of destruction but of creation and renewal. From the excellent Vulcanisn blog