Giant Galapagos Tortoise runs over camera left on the trail

The giant Galapagos tortoises are one of the most recognizable and iconic animals on our planet. Gentle giants, they reach an astounding 400-500lbs when fully grown and are capable of nearing 1,000lbs in some cases. They are believed to live as long as 200 years or even more.

This giant beast is a mature male who lives free in a protected area. Although conservation laws are in place to protect these tortoises in all areas, the Island of Santa Cruz is very active in breeding and conservation programs that involve collecting and hatching the eggs of the tortoises. In this way, they can be protected during their most vulnerable period and the survival rate of the hatchlings increases dramatically. A camera placed on the trail captured this old man's trek from a meadow to a nearby pond.

Slow moving and incapable of catching or harming almost any creature, they feed exclusively on plants. Their only means of defense is their ability to outwait any other animal. They can retract their necks to pull their head inside their shell. They have a thick, armour-like skin on their legs that makes them impervious to injury. They simply lie still with their vulnerable areas protected inside their dense, bony shell. They can survive as long as a full year without food or water. In this way, predators would give up long before the tortoise needed to come out of hiding.

Powerful animals, they walk through dense brush with a slow, deliberate pace, making their way from one feeding area to another. They are able to eat a wide variety of foliage on the islands. In times of drought, they can stretch their long necks to reach the green leaves that grow above the ground. It was the special adaptation of a groove in the shell near the front that caught Charles Darwin's attention, leading him to the conclusion that the tortoises here had evolved to suit their surroundings. This groove was not present in their cousins from Africa where low growing vegetation was more plentiful year round.

It is believed that these giant tortoise found their way to the Galapagos Islands on rafts of vegetation many thousands of years ago. Their ability to survive without food or fresh water for so long was the reason that they lived until the end of their journey.