The Galapagos Islands Britannica Encyclopaedia
The Galápagos Islands are a national park and wildlife sanctuary. Visitors are allowed only by official permission. Several hundred miles to the west of Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands lift their gaunt lava ridges and peaks out of the Pacific Ocean. The Galápagos are so desolate that they have been called “world’s end.” From the shore, the land rises in a series of volcanic craters. Half the birds and plants were different from species in other parts of the world. About a third of the shorefish and nearly all the reptiles also differed.
As few attempts have been made to settle the Galápagos, the animals display little fear of humans. Giant land iguanas, 3 feet (1 meter) or more in length, bask under cactus. Sea iguanas swarm the coastal rocks, which are frequented also by herds of sea lions and fur seals. Among the birds peculiar to the islands are species of pelican, penguin, flightless cormorant, heron, dove, finch, mockingbird, hawk, and albatross.
Giant tortoises were once so abundant that Spanish explorers named the islands for them, from the Spanish word galápago, meaning “tortoise.” Some weighed 600 pounds (270 kilograms) and were strong enough to carry a man. Early in the 20th century enormous numbers were slaughtered for oil.
On some of the larger islands roam wild dogs, cats, goats, burros, and even some cattle—descendants of animals abandoned by passing vessels
The Galápagos Islands are a national park and wildlife sanctuary. Visitors are allowed only by official permission. In 1985 the exotic plant and animal life on Isabela was threatened by a fire that spread over some 100,000 acres (40,000 hectares). Area, 3,093 square miles (8,010 square kilometers); population (2010 census), 25,124
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