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CLOSE ENCOUNTERS IN THE GALÁPAGOS

Meet the unique creatures of the Galápagos Islands, whose mysteries are still being revealed 180 years since Charles Darwin took his voyage of discovery there

@peter_grunert

PHOTOGRAPHS PHILIP LEE HARVEY @PhilipLeeHarvey

On the island of Isabela, a 100-year-old (so quite possibly only middleaged) giant tortoise retracts its neck into a defensive posture

‘Don’t approach the animals.’ The advice of our guide rang out as a flycatcher boldly hopped forward and plucked a few hairs from my head. We arrived on the Galápagos Islands during the hot and wet season, a time of great abundance, when land birds such as Darwin’s finches, warblers, mockingbirds and Galápagos flycatchers are on the hunt for nesting materials. Visitors wandering the national park are accompanied by an officially sanctioned naturalist, whose duties include trying to enforce a two-metre human-to-animal distance rule. The creatures often have other ideas.

Only earlier, I’d been forced to edge back as a pair of vivid yellow land iguanas slithered into battle at my feet, tails lashing angily against one another. Another time, a four-metre wide manta ray swooped up from the depths of the sea, pirouetting about my head. In my bewilderment, I gasped mouthfuls of seawater through my snorkel.

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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Lonely Planet - August 2015
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