They are one of the many species of animals endemic to the Galapagos, meaning you can’t find them anywhere else in the world. And as it happens we’re extremely lucky to still have them around today at all. It’s estimated that there were as many as 250,000 giant tortoises living among the islands back when explorers first reached the Galapagos in the 16th century, but we humans came dangerously close to wiping them out completely over the next few hundred years.
The turtles were used for food. We destroyed much of their natural habitat as we cleared the land for agriculture. And we introduced a number of non-native animals like pigs, goats and rats that all helped us drive the turtles to the brink of extinction. In fact as recently as the 1970s the giant tortoise population had dropped to a staggering few: only about 3,000 were left alive. Incredible.