February 12 is International Darwin Day – a day to celebrate scientific discovery and progress. Darwin’s observations on various species in the Galapagos islands were critical to his questioning their ancestors and helped lead to the formation of the Theory of Natural Selection. Today we look at another researcher who has spent considerable time in the Galapagos: Dr. Linda Cayot.
Dr. Cayot began working in the Galapagos in 1981, spending over two years studying and living with giant tortoises for her PhD from Syracuse University, and has continued doing research in the islands for almost 35 years. After completing her PhD, she became a herpetologist – a zoologist who studies reptiles and amphibians – for the Charles Darwin Research Station. She supervised the tortoise breeding program as well as Ecuadorian students who studies the reptiles of the Galapagos. She also began Project Isabela, aimed at ridding some of the islands of feral goats.
In 2008, she became the Galapagos Conservancy’s Science Advisor. As part of this role, Cayot continues to collaborate with the Galapagos National Park Service in strategizing and planning future conservation efforts for tortoises throughout the islands. She is a staunch supporter of conservationism and has published many papers on the species of the islands.
Throughout her career, Cayot worked extensively with Lonesome George, the only Pinta Island tortoise that remained in the world. She worked for years trying to get Lonesome George to breed. On June 24, 2012, Lonesome George died of old age and his subspecies became extinct. Cayot had this to say, “Lonesome George has been a conservation icon for Galapagos since he was first found in 1972. He reminds us of the devastation that humans did in these islands in previous centuries and he remains, in death, a challenge to us all to ensure that humans work to preserve all of the other animals and plants of the islands and, in fact, of all the world.”
Written by Nicole Hutchison