Death: September 26, 2022
Supervised tortoise breeding program
Worked with Lonesome George
Galapagos Conservancy’s Science Advisor
Image Source: Linda Cayot
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 investigation of their ancestors and helped lead to the formation of the Theory of Natural Selection. Today we look at another researcher who 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 continued doing research in the islands for over 40 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 studied the reptiles of the Galapagos. She also began Project Isabela, aimed at ridding some of the islands of feral goats and other large non-native animals that caused massive destruction on several islands. In 2006, all three islands were declared free from these species.
In 2008, she became the Galapagos Conservancy’s Science Advisor. As part of this role, Cayot collaborated with the Galapagos National Park Service in strategizing and planning future conservation efforts for tortoises throughout the islands. She was 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.”
Linda retired in 2020 but continued to work and complete a book on Galápagos Giant Tortoises to capture all that was known about these animals she loved. She died in 2022, but her legacy of conservation lives on.
Written by Nicole Hutchison