Emergent conservation conflicts in the Galapagos Islands: Human-giant tortoise interactions in the rural area of Santa Cruz Island

Francisco Benitez-Capistros*, Giorgia Campeiro, J.J.A. Hugé, Farid Dahdouh-Guebas*, Nico Koedam

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The conservation of biodiverse areas around the world has contributed to the protection and recovery of endangered species. This has been the case for 11 species of Galapagos giant tortoises (Chelonoidis spp.) that today are successfully maintained over six islands: Española, Santiago, Pinzon, Isabela, San Cristobal and Santa Cruz. A favourable state of conservation will depend however on future development in the islands. In Santa Cruz Island the development of the agricultural areas has encroached on the migratory routes of the southwestern species C. porteri and may be an emergent conflict for tortoise conservation. We investigated the social and ecological inter-linkages using two methods framed under a participatory rural appraisal (PRA) approach: semi-structured interviews and questionnaires to study farmers’ perceptions and attitudinal factors regarding giant tortoises; as well as the associated socio-economic impacts of the conflict. Moreover, we coupled the PRA approach with an ecological assessment of giant tortoises’ population density by performing transect counts during the two yearly phases of giant tortoises’ migration to the lowlands (January to June) and back to the highlands (July to December). Our results indicate that farmers reporting damage and cultivating crops have higher odds of taking actions (fencing and physical actions) towards giant tortoises; regardless of having (or not) a negative perception towards the species. The economic losses for crops and fences averaged 2.8 USD/m2 and 13USD/m, respectively, and provide an initial step to further analyse and characterise the direct and indirect damage costs. Finally, we estimated a density of 76 and 185 individuals of giant tortoises per km2 in the rural area for the lowland and highland migratory phases, respectively. Our approach provides grounded scientific social and ecological information to effectively inform and aid managers, policy and decision makers in the selection of adequate social and ecological criteria to implement the best available options in the resolution of this emergent conservation conflict.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0202268
Number of pages27
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sept 2018
Externally publishedYes


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