Monday, May 21, 2007

Anne's New and Hot - week 8

I have continued my correspondence with my tour guide Klaus, and it turns out that in the past ten years he has given many lectures at Universities and Private Institutions. He mentioned one of his lectures that pertains directly to what we’re studying in class. He said that his lecture that addresses Darwin’s path to evolution and the extent to which the Galapagos influenced him is one of his favorites to give. Knowing this, I’ll definitely ask him some questions about his take on certain things we’ve been discussing.

To start out though, I wanted to ask him about some of the issues relating to the Galapagos that we have been talking about. In one of my other posts I wrote about articles that I had read about the destruction of the Galapagos and tourism. Klaus wrote a really interesting response to my question that reaffirmed that tourism is not as big of a problem as more domestic issues. He wrote:

“Lately there has been a lot of media exposure about Galápagos, partly because of the President’s declaration of Galápagos under emergency. Right away this triggered the next response with all fingers pointing at the excessive numbers of tourists as the main problem and everyone imagined iguanas and sea lions trampled by hordes of visitors. A few weeks ago, a head of UNESCO made a remark about too many visitors in Galápagos. I see this as too much excitement over the wrong evil. Tourism has increased, true. But it is far from being a hazard. Last year we had 148 000 visitors. I have to say that every time I fly to Galápagos (five times in the last two months) I count as another visitor, so the actual number of tourist is much smaller (98000 foreign visitors, in fact, and a number of Ecuadorian too). But high as these figures may seem, keep in mind, that in a single soccer stadium, in Brasil, there is room for 170 000 seated spectators, for one and a half hours of 22 men chasing a ball. Galápagos is in season all of the 365 days of the year. The problem is not there (if you’d see the same trails as a decade ago, you wouldn’t notice the slightest decline of boobies, iguanas, albatrosses or else, right on the trails, nor would you notice a tiny piece of garbage),but in the 3% of Galápagos that is not protected. The inhabited side. And there the problems are many. Starting with a great population growth (5 to 6% yearly) to the problems attached to any human settlement. But Galápagos got to be a true disaster as far as institutions. And here is where the decree of emergency comes in. Consejo Provincial, Municipios, Instituto Nacional Galápagos, Servicio Parque Nacional Galápagos, Direccion General de Marina Mercante, Armada del Ecuador, Gobernación Galápagos, etc are only some of the maze of institutions involved in managing Galápagos. A state of emergency allows the Government to by pass a lot of endless red tape and clean up the institutional mess. Conservation issues like quarantine and eradication program of introduced species will be addressed promptly and efficiently. The wildlife beyond these 3% is doing well as ever!”

I also asked him about Lonesome George since we had the opportunity to see him when I was in the Galapagos. Klaus disclosed some really cool news not well known to the public! There actually may be another male in Prague that could potentially save the subspecies! He also brought up a good point. The species is technically already extinct because there is no female. I thought that this portion of his response was pretty funny as well, so I included it. He wrote:

“Lonesome George? Well he is fine, in his usual celibacy. DNA has determined that indeed he is the last member of his subspecies (a status under debate
is the thin line that separates a species from a subspecies is not only thin these days but extremely blurry and far from being consensual) in Puerto Ayora at the Charles Darwin Research Station. However, there seems to be at least one confirmed back-up for ol´George. Another male tortoise of the abigdoni ssp lives a happy tortoise life in Europe (Prague, to be precise). Because Lonesome George is without a trace of doubt, the world´s most famous tortoise (I dare to go further and call him the world most famous reptile, other than Barney), and as such, we may not stir up too much attention to a brother elsewhere. Terribly important for making every attempt to save the subspecies, no doubt, but perhaps not the best marketing move if announced too loudly. This is my personal view only! In a scientist level, contacts are made to deal with this close encounter with extinction (technically, George is extinct, as a single male does not qualify as a species- both genders are needed!).”

As you can see Klaus is truly passionate about what he does and he would love to address any questions about the Galapagos or anything else that comes to mind! Let me know!

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