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  Home > News and Events > TRC's Work in the Galapagos

TRC's Work in the Galapagos

Read the full July 2013 press release here, but we'd like to share a highlight of the recent work done in the Galapagos:

On Pinzón Island in the famed Galápagos Islands, Ecuador is home to one of the greatest species recovery stories ever told. Over 100 years ago, an invasive alien species, the Black Rat (Rattus rattus), invaded the island1 and began feeding on the defenseless eggs and hatchlings of the Pinzón Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis ephippium). By the turn of the 20th century, the island-endemic tortoise was unable to establish its next generation of tortoises. So, in 1965, conservationists, determined to save the tortoise from the rats, but limited by resources and technology, established a captive rearing program for the Extinct in the Wild tortoise.

Flash forward nearly a half a century to December 2012 when a conservation partnership completed a bold project to remove rats from Pinzón Island, thus eliminating the last remaining invasive alien vertebrate species threat to the tortoise and the island’s other at-risk species. Today, heralding the recovery of the tortoise and the Pinzón ecosystem, tortoise hatchlings are emerging from native Pinzón tortoise nests on the island and the Galápagos National Park have successfully returned 118 hatchlings to their native island home.
The Pinzón Island project is part of a much larger effort to restore this and other key Galápagos Island ecosystems to protect native plants and animals. Similar stories, starring other threatened species returning from the brink of extinction, are unfolding on islands throughout the archipelago. 
Read an article in Galapagos Matters, the biannual magazine of the Galapagos Conservancy, Galapagos Conservation Trust in the UK and other FOGOs here.
Read a May 2013 Nature magazine article here
For the 2012/2013 project in Pinzon, you can follow Dr. Ponder's journal here.
March 2011 Press Release - Galapagos Restoration Partners Release Twenty Hawks Back to Islands 

The GalaAHC - Image - Content - Size B - galapagos hawkpagos National Park, along with partners involved in a recent project to restore several islands, today announced that twenty Galapagos Hawks were released on February 17th and 18th back to the islands where they were captured. The planning process for a recent operation to remove invasive, non-native rodents to protect native species identified that Galapagos Hawks would be at risk during the operation. To mitigate this risk, the restoration project partners captured the hawks from Rábida, Bartolomé and Bainbridge #3 islands prior to the start of the rodent eradication in early January. Hawks were captured without incident and taken to temporary aviaries on a nearby island, where they were maintained in excellent health throughout the six-week holding period, putting on an average of 100 grams each by the release date. Prior to release, each hawk was fitted with a back-pack style telemetry transmitter that will allow it to be tracked and monitored for over a year. No hawk mortalities occurred during the entire operation.
According to Julia Ponder, Executive Director of The Raptor Center, “Galapagos Hawks are polyandrous, meaning that they have a unique social structure amongst raptors where females maintain harems of males. This unique characteristic allowed us to house a territory group per aviary. Our experience with raptors in captivity elsewhere allowed us to take a preventative health, rather than reactive approach, to issues related to keeping hawks in captivity. This approach allowed us to maintain the hawks in excellent condition throughout the holding period.”
“We expect that now, in the absence of rodents, there will be an increase in native prey, such as centipedes, grasshoppers and lava lizards, which will sustain the population of hawks now that they won’t be feeding on rodents.” said Victor Carrion, who is the Technical Coordinator for the Park.
To protect the hawks, the Galapagos National Park was assisted by Island Conservation, the Charles Darwin Foundation, The Raptor Center at University of Minnesota, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and University of Missouri at St. Louis. The partners were supported by contributions from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Bell Laboratories, Landcare Research, Boston Environmental, Lindblad2 Expeditions, The Peregrine Fund and the 3M Foundation. This partnership is working to prevent extinctions and restore altered ecosystems on the Galapagos by permanently removing damaging introduced rodents from key islands. On the 7-8th and 14-15th of January 2011, two treatments of rodent bait donated by Bell Laboratories were applied by helicopter to the islands of Rábida, Bartolomé, Sombrero Chino, North Plaza, the two Beagle islets, and three of the Bainbridge Rocks in the first phase of this project.
According to Hugo Arnal, South America Regional Director for Island Conservation, “this is the first time Galapagos Hawks have been maintained in captivity and successfully released. With the knowledge and experience gained future projects will be able to adapt this model to other raptor species and replicate this successful operation.”
“Invasive species pose the greatest threat to nature in the Galapagos,” said Gabriel Lopez, Executive Director of the Charles Darwin Foundation. “The islands targeted for rodent eradication cover 704 hectares or 1740 acres and are home to 12 unique Galapagos species considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to be threatened with extinction. Eradicating invasive rodents from these islands will benefit many species unique to the Galapagos.”
The partners expect to adapt the techniques used in this first phase to remove rodents from larger islands in the future. Preparations are underway for removing black rats from Pinzón Island where they have prevented the Galapagos Giant Tortoise from successfully breeding in the wild for over 100 years by consuming eggs and hatchlings. The tortoise population is sustained only by hatching eggs and rearing tortoises to a size where they are ‘rat-proof’ and then releasing them.
Funds are urgently required to allow the Pinzón project to stay on-track.
For more information about the project and island restoration, please visit these partner websites:
Galápagos National Park
Island Conservation
Charles Darwin Foundation
Bell Laboratories
The Raptor Center
University of Missouri – St. Louis
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust
For high-resolution photographs, please visit

Background on the Project

Fall 2010 - The Raptor Center (TRC) has been invited to work on a project to protect Galapagos hawks on the Galapagos Islands this fall.

The hawks will be brought into captivity during an effort to eradicate invasive rats from ten islands in the Galapagos archipelago. Rats have already been successfully eradicated from several islands, and the long-term goal is to continue this work. The problem is that four of the ten islands being targeted this year are home to small numbers of the Galapagos hawk, an endemic species that is vulnerable by virtue of its small population of several hundred individuals. Because the hawks’ prey includes rats, the hawks would be at very high risk for secondary poisoning during the rat eradication program. To mitigate this risk, approximately 22 hawks, the entire population from the islands being targeted for rodent eradication will be brought into temporary captivity for four to six weeks.

TRC’s role will be to provide consultative input on the project, veterinary expertise with raptors, and care and management of the hawks during their time in captivity. In November and December, Dr. Juli Ponder, TRC's executive director, will be spending six weeks in the Galapagos, actively managing the birds and providing veterinary support.

"I am absolutely thrilled that when the project managers realized that they would benefit from a veterinarian’s perspective, they contacted us," Ponder says. "In addition to our experience in raptor medicine, surgery, and critical care, we also bring leadership and knowledge in the area of captive management of wild raptors, which will be critical for this project."

TRC's partners on the project are the Charles Darwin Foundation, Galapagos National Park, Island Conservation, Bell Laboratories, University of Missouri, and The Peregrine Fund, an international conservation organization for birds of prey.

Found exclusively in the Galapagos Islands, Galapagos hawks measure about 21 inches from beak to tail, with a wingspan of about 47 inches.


Dear Friends,
Wanted to let you know that I am back in town! I spent a very productive three weeks in the Galapagos Islands. I met with the various partners and staff who will be directly involved in the implementation of the rodent eradication project, as well as the hawk mitigation team. Much ground work and planning was accomplished with all of the immeasurable amount of details and coordination that needed to occur. After being there, I am more than ever convinced of the importance of this project, and have an increased awareness of the magnitude of what is being attempted.

I head back in early January 2011 to being bringing the hawks into captivity before the rodent eradication phase gets underway. I want to stress again that it is an honor that TRC was considered from the start as experts to be involved in this project.

Follow Dr. Ponder's adventures on our TRC Blog and Facebook!

Press Release on Project, pdf, March 2011

PRESS coverage
YouTube interview about the project
Minnesota Public Radio
University of Minnesota Relations U of M Moment
KARE11, our Minneapolis/St Paul NBC affiliate.

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