photo by cdorobek (source: Flickr Creative Commons)

Everybody hates a tourist. Especially if you’re a Galápagos tortoise.

Flocks of brightly glad, gawking tourists are proving to be an invasive species in the Galápagos Islands, located off the west coast of Ecuador. The endemic species of the islands, studied extensively by Charles Darwin due to their extensive variety, are struggling to exist under shadow of the fattest of the fittest.

Humans left their mark on the Galapagos even before Darwin turned up. Whalers slaughtered the giant tortoises, and the few settlers brought rats, cats and goats, which crowded out local flora and fauna. Yet the pace of depredation has picked up rapidly over the past three decades, as tourist visits have increased 14-fold to over 160,000 a year.

-Economist

The tourist industry has brought invasive parasites, viruses and lots of taxis, all of which have greatly harmed local birds, including penguins and the Darwin finch. While eco-tourism is often lauded as a powerful way to preserve endangered species, the Galápagos example is an ironic twist. These living tourist attractions are most threatened by those who would most like them to survive.

On the other hand, I guess that’s not so unusual.

Read more in the Economist article ‘On the extinction of a species’.