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Season 12 | Episode 9


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(Frans Lanting /

Today, the strange story of a small group of islands that raise a big question: is it inevitable that even our most sacred natural landscapes will eventually get swallowed up by humans? And just how far are we willing to go to stop that from happening?

We are dedicating a whole hour to the Galapagos archipelago, the place that inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection. 179 years later, the Galapagos are undergoing rapid changes that continue to pose -- and possibly answer -- critical questions about the fragility and resilience of life on Earth.

Produced by:

Tim Howard

To The Brink

When our producer Tim Howard landed in the Galapagos, fresh from his honeymoon, he had the ghost of Darwin and dreams of Eden in his head. But he found something very different from what Darwin would¹ve seen. With a local election just days away, Tim discovered a strange new tension between the ...

Comments [11]


Fighting to protect a species is one thing, but what if that species is all but gone -- can you bring it back?  Should you? Or, as Holly Doremus and Josh Donlan argue, have we already changed our world so dramatically that the only way forward is to accept that Nature will never be how it was?  And Gisella Caccone explains ...

Comments [10]

In Real Time

The finches of Galapagos are an iconic symbol of evolution in action: each species neatly adapted to its island's environment, thanks to enormous time spans and total isolation. But isolation is not so easy to maintain these days. Despite heroic efforts by the government of Ecuador to control the ...

Comments [13]

Comments [87]

Michelle Moriarty from Pasadena, CA

I am grateful there are highly intelligent Conservation Biologists raising alarm regarding the many endangered species on the brink of extinction from being killed by invasive species that are voracious and breed by huge litters and often. I am also grateful they know what to do to restore the animal life and plants and trees on these Islands back its natural state as it was for millions of years before man brought the invasive species catastrophe - that is hundreds of thousands of killer rats that eat the babies of every native bird, reptile, mammal species on the island. The thought of dozens of rats eating a live baby sea bird, baby tortoises, etc., is horrifying yet has happened daily for decades. When is humankind going to stop our arrogance, and stop acting like we have a right to destroy the natural environment, send thousands of species to the brink of extinction every where we want to explore/exploit? We need to be accountable for our mistakes such as bringing rats there shipload after shipload, or releasing goats that breed quickly and eat every plant and baby tree. It is a necessary evil that we need to remove these very destructive killer invasive species. Those who cannot stand the killing of invasive rats or goats should organize and spend the millons of dollars to relocate them to a giant farm and care for them medically and feed them for their lives. It is a difficult problem, but one that urgently needs to be solved.

Jul. 09 2017 08:25 PM
Jordan Dickerson from New York

The origin of life on planet Earth
A "cosmic cloud" falls from infinite space. Then, in the crust of the planet, as in the depths of the primitive oceans, could be observed the existence of a viscous element that covered the whole Earth. With this gelatinous mass, protoplasm was born. This matter, amorphous and viscous, with its condensation gave origin to the birth of the nucleus. The earliest inhabitants of Earth are albuminoid cells, amoebae, and all unicellular organisms that have multiplied in the warm waters of the oceans. These beings only reveal a sense: of touch, which gave rise to all others.

Jul. 07 2017 12:36 PM
lol from earf


Nov. 08 2016 09:59 AM
Carissa Trapp from Simi Valley, CA

Is it possible to revisit this episode? I would love to hear an update about the finches and the flies.

Oct. 07 2016 06:02 PM
Ben Britten

You have a unique radio show. One of kind in my opinion. This is due, in part, no doubt to the deep diversity of issues you explore and - often - the open-mindedness, sensitivity, and compassion you approach these subjects with. The first episode I ever listened to (over a year ago) was Galapagos and I have eagerly listened to countless since. The part from Galapagos though that always stands out the most in my mind anytime I think back to it is in regards to shooting the goats from helicopters. It disturbed me NOT because I am "an animal lover" in the cliche sense of the word and NOT because I am unaware of the severity that situations such as this pose, but rather because of the approach to the situation as well as the reaction to it on the show. As hosts who often exhibit distress for injustices towards humans and seem to sound like they care deeply for the well-being of those who go through tragedies and so on, it seems only neatly limited to their own species.

My disturbance in how the matter of the goats was handled never quite came to clarity until just today reading a comment by founder of Free From Harm Robert Grillo who stated, "If NPR was describing the extermination by arial gunning of a race of people, they would surely refer to this as "ethnic cleansing." But when it's another species, it's just fodder for mocking the victims? This reveals an ugly variation on prejudice based on species membership that stems from the same fundamental mindset as prejudice against color, sex, class, etc. "

Again, this is not to make it about me personally or to be some defense of "cute" animals that I personally have deemed worth saving, but rather to point out a hypocrisy coming from two individuals [Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich] who are educated and experienced in their treatment of such a subject. I have seen this trend of light treatment of the subject matter in other episodes including experimentation on mice in relation to scientific research. To partially echo Robert Grillo's sentiments, why is it okay to disregard the suffering of non-human animals but express remorse [as the both of you OFTEN do on your show] over far less (by comparison) traumatic offenses towards human animals? If men who shot humans from helicopters were invited on the show to discuss and even laugh over the executions they carried out by the thousands, I doubt if they would be treated with such cordiality. [cont...]

Mar. 14 2016 09:51 PM
Robert Grillo from Chicago

I was sickened and disturbed by your cavalier description of the Rambo-style arial gunning of 250,000 "wild" goats which you interjected with glib and facetious comments to further add salt to the wounds and trivialize their fate, such as "the Judas goats were left unharmed to share war stories.." These goats were likely the result of irresponsible farming, once artificially-bred, domestic goats who became feral, so not "wild." We routinely blame other species of domesticated animals for problems that WE actually created by exploiting them as resources in the first place, such as in the case of the wild boar issue in the U.S. The irony is that we humans destroying the planet that are the real "Judas", not the other species we have domesticated and abandoned. We are the "traders" who abandoned our responsibility to them and the ecosystems which are impacted by our actions. If NPR was describing the extermination by arial gunning of a race of people, they would surely refer to this as "ethnic cleansing." But when it's another species, it's just fodder for mocking the victims. This reveals an ugly variation on prejudice based on species membership that stems from the same fundamental mindset as prejudice against color, sex, class, etc. At one point, the killers describe goats as "herd animals," but what are we but a bunch of followers who do what we are told and don't object to a progressive radio show that makes a mockery out of animals for a few cheap laughs? What hope is there to ever save a place like the Galapagos so long as this prejudice informs our judgments and actions?

Mar. 14 2016 09:29 AM
MaeLou from Hawaii

Aloha, I just heard a repeat of this show March 2016. Thank you for this episode and bringing this information to attention of people, even though it is rather painful to hear. Similar problems are happening much closer to home than the Galapagos. The parallels are very real to Hawaii's struggles with goats, feral pigs and other invasive species. Feral house cats are the biggest threat to native and rare birds. Their presence on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on Big Island has caused extensive environmental destruction, deforestation and put many bird species at risk of extinction. There are annual goat and pig hunting allowed to reduce the populations, and this agreement with the local hunters is a win-win. Seems like a much better solution than helicopter destruction, but that has occurred here too. However, fencing sensitive areas appears to be the most effective method. The fence even keeps out feral cats. After a couple years, endangered birds, undergrowth and trees like koa and sandlewood are responding well. However, seeing fences around sacred areas and once open hunting areas, even with gates, triggers various negative responses, including destruction. The reason for the fencing and hunting needs to be explained better. Your show provides positive PR for areas like the Galapagos. This good PR needs to happen for Hawai'i. Your show does a good job on making esoteric data interesting, thank you.

Mar. 13 2016 07:48 PM
Leon Zitzer from New York City

Agnes Arber, British botanist, once wrote that the intellectual atmosphere in any given age is compulsive to a humiliating degree. We humiliate ourselves by endlessly repeating academic misconceptions, not to say prejudices, and constantly supporting the icons that go with these bad ideas. We all do it. You did it twice in your program on the Galapagos. Once regarding Darwin, and once with your use of Judas’s name.

As for Darwin, you claimed that it was his observations in the Galapagos that pushed him towards the theory of evolution. Not so. The theory of evolution or common descent preceded Charles Darwin by a good many decades. He was quite familiar with it from the work of his grandfather Erasmus Darwin and the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Both had given some evidence for it. Charles Darwin was looking for more evidence, but the idea of evolution was given to him. His specific theory of the way it happens, natural selection, is another story, which came several years later. In the Galapagos, he was concerned with common descent and it was previous naturalists who pushed him in that direction.

Nor did Charles Darwin emphasize constant change, as you said. The evolutionists before Darwin were thrilled by the idea of change. It meant creation never ends. Darwin insisted on more stability. In his view, evolution gives us dominant and weak species, with the dominant becoming “still more dominant.”

As for Judas, it is another compulsive notion that his name should be a synonym for traitor, as in your repeated references to the Judas goat. Judas certainly did not betray Jesus. To be more precise: No one has ever given a rational argument for this supposed betrayal. To be even more precise: No one has ever given an evidentiary argument for it. All the evidence in the Gospels (with only one trivial exception) concerning Judas is ambiguous. A hundred pieces of ambiguous evidence cannot a decent case make. There is no clear evidence for a motive or for any conflict between Jesus and Judas, and not a speck of evidence that anyone who knew Judas denounced him or said a bad word about him. The alleged betrayal is not a fact, it is a theory, and a very bad theory it is. There is a much better theory to explain all the ambiguity in Judas’s story. But that too is a story for another day.

Mar. 13 2016 04:07 PM
Holly Taroc from L.A.

So sad that the nature shrinks so rapidly! I wish they get back their nature!

Dec. 08 2015 08:51 AM
Matt Nordlund

Come on guys, do some fact-checking. I love this program, but this episode contained a few important errors.

Darwin didn't come up with the idea of evolution; his contribution was explaining how it worked - natural selection. The idea of evolution had been around for thousands of years before Darwin and naturalists had been discussing possible mechanisms for evolution since at lease the 1750's.

Also, the purposeful extinction of a species isn't anything new. For example, Bison were intentionally exterminated from the most of the American plains by snipers who shot them by the thousand. Over 50 million bison were killed. Many were killed for their meat or hides, but many were shot simply to make room for cattle or to deny Native Americans food. These numbers dwarf the number of goats discussed in this program. So when Linda Cao (sic?) says that "this kind of eradication program is far beyond anything anyone has ever done anywhere int the world" (around 19:55), she is totally wrong. How is she not aware of the precedents?

Apr. 07 2015 02:26 PM
Elizabeth King

I always found these islands very interesting since the first time I read about the tortoises in my Zoobooks. Ever since then I watch shows about them on animal planet and it always makes me sad, especially listening to this. Saving and conserving small places like the Galapagos are some of the most important things we can do. They ad so much to our world, why would we feel that we can just watch them go by and get destroyed by humans. Nature should remain intact without human intervention.

Apr. 07 2015 01:24 AM
Erwin from ND

Hey Radiolab. I love your podcasts.

I bike a lot, like 4 hours at a stretch sometimes. And while I bike I love to listen to either Taake or any other black metal band or to your podcast and I don't listen in any particular order, i'll just randomly pick an episode to play.

Galapagos was an ep i played today and it was also the first ep to severely make me really angry. I hope those Environmentalists are reading this btw or I hope someone shows them this. Who do they think they are trying to preserve a group of worthless turtles. What good is it! Money that could be used for legitimate STEM research is being used for that?! What are those scientists OCD or something? They talk about natural selection but their puny "scientific" minds fail to realize that we are part of nature. If those species fail to be able to survive in our world (because this planet belongs to us now), then they'd rather go extinct. If they have something valuable to offer (like chickens or cows) Then they survive.

Those turtles must be able to evolve to survive in our environment, because if they don't, no amount of "conservation" is gonna save them. Trying to keep a species in it's "pristine" state is by definition against evolution. We could instead build geothermal plants on those volcano rich islands and establish infrastructure that supports clean energy like solar panels or bike roads or electric cars. And efficient waste disposal facilities, but instead those environmentalists are screwing up like they always do. Forget the turtles. No one cares about them and no one should care. Environmentalists ALWAYS hinder progress, it's like they have this problem understanding that they can transform those islands into efficient regions of this planet thanks to the abundance of energy sources like geothermal or solar. If turtles can't survive in that environment, let them go extinct, they're useless anyway. All they do is lie under a bunch of rocks for 150 years doing absolutely nothing. Environmentalists like these shouldn't be calling themselves scientists, they're a waste of oxygen and brain cells.

This ep made me very angry. Whoever is funding those idiots with our tax money is a bigger idiot. Those purist scientists sound very much like Nazis btw.

Oh and I'm surprised it took them so long to realize that interbreeding among species (like with those birds) can happen. I mean Caucasoid Homo Sapiens ARE a product of inter breeding pre-modern Homo Sapiens with Neanderthals, which happened to be a different species but at the same time a species with which H Sapiens had a lot in common with.

I study Biology btw.

Thank you and I hope those scientists grow a few brain cells.

Mar. 17 2015 02:15 PM
Rudyard L. Kevoac from Florida

It appears that development is showing any signs of slowing down as time goes on. We can at least be content with the understanding that the biosphere will be able to repair itself once we're gone.

Jan. 26 2015 02:28 PM

That moment when you realize that those rocks in the picture are actually turtles. Dang!

Jan. 08 2015 09:51 PM
David rezits from United States

This was one of the most amazing documentaries on Galapagos Islands I have ever heard. I visited there for 9 days in 2005...truly one of the treasures of the world.

Dec. 24 2014 06:39 PM
Jessie Henshaw from United States

Jad, Have you considered the evidence of history, when it was first noticed that the economy would encroach on any treasured environment eventually. That was at the prior turn of the century, when the UN National Parks were founded for that reason. It was a beautiful solution, except for not in the least way altering the problem.

There are many alternatives not considered, most of which I think I probably have. The simplest one of all is one I then found burred in the unnoticed work of JM Keynes, on why THE ECONOMY WOULD EVENTUALLY ENCROACH ON ITSELF!! That really settles it, and the reasons why that is tell provide an excellent test for the possible solutions.

Dec. 22 2014 06:17 PM
Aelly Liu from United States

This episode brought back so much memory for me. I got to participate the volunteer program to help the national park to reserve the local eco-system last year.
I learned so much and meet some many fellow volunteers who works on a common goal to save these islands. It is a truly amazing place on earth. I would encourage everyone to participate their volunteer program.

Dec. 21 2014 01:34 PM
Nicole from NYC

Ahh this episode brought back so many memories. I had the pleasure of spending some time in Galapagos, and even got to meet Lonely George before his time came. I have to say, the islands, even around the cities, are absolutely teeming with life. Tim Howard said when he landed it was not what he expected because of the lack of it, but AS my plane was coming in, huge grasshoppers swarmed all over the windows, and there were sea iguanas dotting the tarmac! I felt like nature was welcoming me in. I don't scuba, but just snorkeling I was surrounded by blue-footed boobies, sea lions, sharks, rays, penguins, sea turtles, and multitudes of fish and crustaceans at any given moment. I remember walking to a particular beach, and didn't encounter another human for hours and hours. Of course I spotted lots of finches!

I've never in my life experienced nature like I did in Galapagos. It was truly another world. This was 2008.

Nov. 18 2014 03:48 PM
Alice A. Keats from FL

It's amazing to think that's it's already been 179 years since Darwin set foot on the galapagos. It's also amazing to think that East Tortoises, only found here, have been around for only 500 years. It is sad with the inclusion of tourist spots that habitat degradation has taken place. People wonder if their food and habitat will be destroyed and they will soon not have anything more to eat. Project Isabela is wonderful because this species needs preservation help if their habitat is being taken away. It is wonderful to know that the East Tortoises can be saved. The goats are also in danger but Project Isabela will definitely help them too. They don't want poachers to kill them and shoot them from helicopters. The goats have also recognized danger and now beware poachers and harmful creatures.

Nov. 10 2014 07:39 PM
Catniss J. Plath

It is interesting to think how much humans affect the environment. Many unique and famous landscapes have been destroyed because of us. It comes to question, how are we going to find a resolution to these actions? There needs to be more preservations of the natural habitats of animals and plants.

Nov. 03 2014 09:24 PM
Jackie Gleason from Portland, OR

You've found the real-life Lorax!

Also, a really great episode.

Oct. 30 2014 06:56 PM
Alice Z. Lovecraft from Florida

I thought this podcast was very interesting because I had the same idea that the Galapagos was this beautiful island hardly affected by humans.Hearing about the destruction of this place is heartbreaking but the effort being made to restore this place is incredible.It opened my eyes to more of what is really happening in the world. People are going to have to make tough decisions soon and really come up with solutions to the problems we've caused, and this got me thinking more about it.

Oct. 23 2014 05:11 PM
Frank Strobl from Florida

I think the article gives a very interesting perspective on human degradation of the Galapagos. As an outsider the man dislikes the development because it destroyed precious unique habitat. Although there are some people putting forth great effort to help save the islands there is more being lost every day. It was interesting to hear the techniques that people used to try to restore the environment and control populations. Hopefully most of the habitat can be restored but if it continues the damage may become unrepairable.

Oct. 20 2014 08:27 PM
Harriet Emerson from Florida

The man who claims to be an outsider in the Galapagos, didn't like the industrialization of the area because of the toll it took on the environment. This is a prime example of humans destroying the ecosystems around them. It was interesting all the ways they would try to kill off the goat population. It crazy how much humans have damaged the earth the extents they will go to, to fix it. Its not right how the people of the island treat the animals, for example the pinta tortoise population becoming extinct. Animals like the finches face extinction is really sad how they are being killed off and the measures they are taking to protect the species of the Galapagos. Science has come so far to bring back species and preserve them.

Oct. 19 2014 04:24 PM
Zara L. from Panama

I like how this podcast is about one of the most important habitats in the world. The islands and Darwin were a huge breakthrough in the scientific communtiy. Darwin pretty muched began the Theory of Evolution. The speaker in this podcast described the life on the islands and I enjoyed what he shared from his experiences there. I don't like how industrialization has taken over the life there and it's unfortuante what has happened to some of the animals.

Oct. 17 2014 01:48 PM
John S from NYC

I'm late to the party but I was listening to this episode this morning and I was laughing to myself saying "oh boy, here we go!" Cause we all know the views on animal rights for the public radio listening demographic. I couldn't wait to read the comments. Thankfully these people aren't incharge of the environment or conservation because in 20 years Galapagos would be a barren volcanic rock where even people couldn't live, all the animals would be dead and the last people there would have to move to some dirty metropolis. We (animals included) are all going to die. but we (I hope) are smart enough to do cullings to make the species and the environments survive after we animal lovers of today are long gone. I think we can be not so selfish and kill some goats if we really think about it and think about the future.

Oct. 12 2014 11:54 AM

Great show! But how could you miss this awesome story when talking about Philornis??

Oct. 03 2014 11:55 AM

Imagine a Judas goat finding another group, and beginning to tell them all the horror stories of her past.

"Wait, so you're telling me whenever you're with another group of us, you're the only one who survives?!"

Sep. 25 2014 09:14 AM
Francisco G. from NYC.

Can't stop laughing about all the enraged armchair ecologists feeling dissapointed about Project Isabella.You guys are fools. Let me get 250000 goats and let them loose on Yosemite National Park or any other natural park, to see if you continue to be goat lovers for long.

Sep. 05 2014 07:49 PM

Would people seriously be fine with the extinction of whole ecosystems because the goats are there? Stop being antropomorphic. This is what conservation entails in the year 2014.

Aug. 29 2014 06:56 PM
Beath from Eugene

Incredible reporting and insight.
In regards to the goats hopefully they were butchered, BQ and served.

Aug. 25 2014 10:57 PM
Daniel from Ohio

The comments here are ridiculous. People have been slaughtering goats for thousands of years. The goat population control program isn't any different than natural predators which keep populations of herbivores under control (which didn't exist on this island, and is why this was necessary.)

Sterilizing hundreds of thousands of goats would not have been possible, and they would have continued to drive the local wildlife to extinction before they died. Is letting animals starve to death from goats more humane? Eventually the goats would starve to death too.

I wish the goats didn't have to die, but it was a bad situation.

Aug. 23 2014 03:19 AM

Did Radiolab really have to go into gory detail about the goat hunt? complete with all the sound effects? Did we need to hear how the hunter cornered defenseless animals in caves? Do we really need gratuitous violence to fill time on what is usually a fine show? That's what it sounded like. No qualms were aired about this slaughter or the ethical double-edged sword of slaughtering species A to protect species B. Indeed, there seemed to be a certain sense of glee and adventure in airing the hunt, like it was some kind of brave and valiant undertaking that was really no contest for the goats.
As for the science and policy, there was really no other way? Was it ever considered?
These goats were literal "scapegoats". The most destructive animal on the planet is the human being and yet we engage in cruel and often ineffective eradication programs of other species in the name of conserving what we are destroying in the first place.
I suggest Radiolab do a show about invasive species and humans' poor efforts at managing them - and delve into some other ways it can be done besides slaughter. And definitely leave out the pointless details of the killing.

Aug. 20 2014 10:11 AM
Ever Heard of Birth Control via animal feed?

Wow. Just WOW. So short-sighted and idiotic. Ever heard of birth control?
In other places (, they're putting food out for rampant urban dog populations that leaves the animals sterilized. Now, that is a Perfect Solution. Change the food to be goat specific, and w/ an average lifespan of 9-12 years, those goats would have eventually died out naturally.... DUH

Aug. 13 2014 01:50 PM
Jose from Virginia, USA

What I got from this story was that if we have, let's say Species A and Species B, and we see Species A is causing Species B to go extinct, and we know Species A can be found in many other parts of the world, we should just gather everyone in Species A and shoot them dead until we have wiped them out from that location. I think it's a wonderful idea, I know of one "Species A" that has been causing many "Species B" to go extinct, and there are about 7 billion of that Species A so it should be fine if we kill a couple millions...

Aug. 11 2014 02:52 PM

I love listening to radiolab, but this particular show made me feel ill in the literal sense. I think all stories, particularly true stories, should be told…but the way in which this content was delivered was pretty horrible.

Aug. 08 2014 05:35 PM
Lisa M from Portland, OR

This is the only RadioLab episode that I have ever been offended/appalled by. The treatment of the animals described in this episode is downright horrific and cruel. I know that RadioLab is simply reporting events but this episode is incredibly upsetting. I wish they would have given at least a modicum of consideration to those of us who are compassionate toward animals and at least provided a warning at the beginning of the episode.

Aug. 08 2014 04:16 PM
Brad from WNY

When re-creating the Pinta turtle, let's not forget that the original Pinta turtle would have evolved on its own anyway. Maybe a little different, but probably very similarly as the species responds to natural conditions.

Great show! It doubles our desire to go there someday, but with a renewed respect for the islands and their inhabitants, - animal, plant and human.

Aug. 06 2014 10:19 PM
Andrew the practical from Nuevo Mexico

I see a lot of commenters are too squeamish to be environmental ecologists. Those goats are made of plant matter, literally. 100,000 goats represent a lot of nutrients that the environment needs to regrow all the vegetation that had been decimated. The best thing for the island and the tortoises is to let those carcasses be dispersed by scavengers.
Now, the truly humorous part of this is that some scientist will come along 2,000 years from now and say, "Look, goat bones! We need to restore goats to this island. It's getting completely overgrown."

Aug. 06 2014 01:55 PM
LMW from Toronto

I have never once commented on anything on the internet, but this episode, and the way that they dealt with those goats, was so horrific that I felt compelled to say something. I'm completely shocked that the producers of the show didn't ask why the goats weren't given to the people on the mainland. Surely, those goats could have provided milk and meat for hundreds of people. It was such a tragic waste to just kill them all and leave them to rot - I can't believe that in the eight years of deliberation over what to do about the goats that this solution never came up.

Aug. 05 2014 11:29 AM

Why didn`t they give the meat to the people? Most omivourus people actually buy meat in order to eat it -- even if you don`t care about meaningless killing from an ethical point of view - you should have a sense for business. They could have given it to the angry fisherman who should have had the right to sell the meat. Or they could have sent the fishermen to kill the goats - occupational therapy for unemployed fishermen... What a weird thing to leave 100,000 goats just rotting on the island.

Aug. 05 2014 05:08 AM
Matt from Madison, WI

Transcripts from the 2008 Turtle-Goat-Conundrum Conference, 2008.

"There are too many goats, people, and they're killing the turtles!"
"Don't forget the peasants over-fishing the native species!"
"Let's put lions on the island to kill the goats!"
"Let's shoot them from helicopters!"
"We need to restrict fishing, too, by the way."
"Hey, you can't restrict my fishing, my family needs food!"
"Shut up, peasant, we're thinking of how to solve this goat problem!"
"But couldn't I just..."
"Look, peasant, we're academics, so we know what we're doing. Shut your trap, and deal with not having enough of your "precious" food."
"Oh my, let's just compromise. We'll put lions in the helicopters. Shoot the lions in the foot, so they are still semi-mobile, then they can hunt a few goats, but will bleed out before they can kill any tourists."
"How much will these helicopters cost?"
"No price is too great for preserving our natural environment!"
"I'd be willing to work for pennies on the dollar to hunt these goats and feed my family."
"Oh, god, can we add Ecuadorian peasants to the list, too? Yammer, yammer, yammer."

Aug. 04 2014 02:06 PM
Emir from Arizona, USA

While I think the tortoises take precedence over the goats, it seems a shame and a waste to just shoot the goats. Didn't the podcast say that the scientists, etc., had taken eight years to come up with this as a solution? Did they leave the goats where they fell or butcher them for food? I just feel like there have to be hungry, poor people in the world, or maybe just goat farmers, who would have been glad to have these goats. Maybe not the cheapest solution, but one that doesn't involve such a waste of life. The podcast also mentioned what beautiful specimens the goats were; mightn't they also have something to offer genetically?

Aug. 03 2014 09:27 PM
Ana from Mexico

I made a mistake and commented on the Nirvana short. I loved this episode! One of my favorites so far.

Jul. 31 2014 02:37 PM

I feel very confused by all the goat supporters. It is not sad to kill invasive goats. By that logic I suppose you are all very worked up over the unfair continuing battle against, and attempted murder of, all the finch killing botflies in act 3?

Jul. 30 2014 07:04 PM
Joe Minnetto from New Paltz, NY

Especially impressive episode. Really enjoyed the inclusion of the Stars of the Lid tune.

Jul. 29 2014 11:37 PM
Sloppy from Stockholm

I'm happy to see that comments here range widely. I too had much trouble with this episode. The point of Darwin's discoveries there was that non of the species he found were originally from these islands, came there by various theoretical means, and evolved into "technically" another sub-species. So maintaining what is or was there by stepping in seems, well, wrong. What else is wrong is that Darwin believed that evolution is random and this is well known to not be the case. Genes do not change at all on there own. Their environmental signals can turn on or off genetic switches.

The one part I liked was that researched who wanted to introduce that not quite right tortoise species to the island with the philosophy, right out of evolution, that they would become the right species give or take. At least someone has the right idea there.

Jul. 29 2014 09:38 AM
Steve Zelman from New York City

I spent time time in the Galapagos in 1999; when I came back told friends they better get there soon as it was rapidly deteriorating due to human impact.
That is not the purpose of this message, though. I was dismayed at your dumbing down the program by clearly implying the Galapagos visit as having given Darwin an "Eureka" moment into the origin of species--evolution.this theory. it is well documented that the diversity of the species he saw in his travels ins South America was at least if not more as important, as was his experience in the rapid rise of land (30' in almost an instant) wrought by the earthquake in Chile that he witnessed. and while noting the coral formations in the Pacific Atolls.

Wouldn't it have been easier and more accurate to say that the Galapagos symbolizes and embodies in our consciousness the theory and its emergence. Your audience could handle that without you needing to have to go off on a tangent about this.

BTW, as to Darwin's fintches, it is documented that Darwin did not apparently recognize the significance of the different species--he did not label his specimens as to the island where they lived and after his return had to ask the captain of the Beagle, who did his own collecting and was more meticulous in labeling them, for specimens for hisf reference.

Jul. 28 2014 12:47 PM

Brilliant reporting. Incredible episode. Thank you for taking such unflinching care of this challenging subject.

Jul. 27 2014 09:08 PM
Marcela from panama

excellent episode

I want to understand something better. During the tortoise part it was mention that yale researchers found dna of the pinto tortoise in other tortoise (a percentage of it) and by pairing the ones with the higher percentage of pinto's DNA, in a couple of hundreds of years, the pinto tortoise may be revived.
But then during the finch section it was said that two different species won't pair naturally, it is a law of nature. Although it seems like its happening with finches.
The questions is, do species mix or they don't?

Jul. 26 2014 09:29 PM

I was unable to listen to this episode in its entirety. I found it to be "audio torture". Talking about the methodical killing of the goats and playing the sounds of goats.
It sickens me that man can makes these decisions to easily (in the name of the better good, or science)when it comes to the extermination of animals, animals WE often put in that predicament to begin with, but somehow we can't talk about the way we are overpopulating the earth because somehow we have given ourselves the right to procreate without limit (recall how we reviled China for the one child policy).

I am sorry, Jad and Robert, but this episode I could not listen to. It's disappointing.

Jul. 26 2014 05:29 PM
Brian Shea from Albany NY

In your story you mention a hypothesis about Tortoises being thrown over board, who then swim to shore. Tortoises cannot swim. They can walk alone the bottom of a body of water, and can hold their breath for hours. Maybe you were trying to simplify the story, but it is incorrect.

Jul. 25 2014 07:43 PM
keryx from Vancouver, BC

Just in case you were totally grossed out and depressed by the bot fly segment, there is a little more hope. Scientists have made cotton treated with a mild pesticide available to nesting finches. If a finch uses the cotton in building a nest the chemical kills most of the carnivorous larvae and saves the nestlings.

Jul. 25 2014 06:05 PM

It has been such a disturbing episode! I can understand the benefit of the environment restoration, but the extermination looked like an old story: we always need to kill something/someone! (wasn't there some weapons manufacturer involved?) Humans are the only ones who deserve to die!

Jul. 25 2014 04:29 PM

Excellent episode. One question about the goats: did they leave the goat bodies on the island? Is the island just covered with goat bones or was part of the project to haul off the killed goats. Creepy.

Jul. 25 2014 01:53 PM
Mr Dan from Madrid, Spain

So here I am keenly downloading to listen to at home and I have a trivial contribution:

All the indigenous flowers on all the Galapagos Islands are yellow. (True.)

I seem to recall the suggested explanation was that all flowers needed to attract only one species of pollenating bee, and those that had a bit more yellow pigment were "brighter" in the bee's vision range, so generation by generation a yellow colouration slowly became the norm.

(Now to find out that it says so in the programme anyway, whihc would make me feel a bit of a fool.)

Jul. 25 2014 11:51 AM
Tim Reyes from South Bay, CA

'Read all the comments. Yes, I like Radiolab too. I pass on some stories and I don't have too much trouble with taking out 250,000 goats in 24 months but this story of the islands problems as material and as expressed by Radiolab was crap. If I'm wrong then take it the next step and travel to Gaza or Donbass and weave another story but change up your style.

Jul. 25 2014 03:51 AM
T. Faulkner from New York,NY

The invasive species are the humans not the goats! Who brought the goats there.?WTF, this episode pissed me off. More human idiocy.

Jul. 25 2014 12:14 AM

I truly appreciate this episode (longtime fan and contributor). I'm headed to the Galapagos with National Geographic in November and can't wait to explore the islands. Extinction is part of Let's be careful as we decide what continues and what (who) has run their course. Why are the finches more important than the flies? Do we give preferential consideration to the cutest? Dangerous and telling. Just saying...

Jul. 22 2014 09:34 PM
Marielle Seastrom from V.V. C.A.


If we look at the "problem" more closely, we can save everyone and everything on the planet, and they will help "us" save ourselves.

Thank you Radiolab, you rock!

Best always,

Marielle Seastrom

Jul. 22 2014 09:03 PM
John W from Royal Oak, MI

This was an excellent episode. My criticism (if that's what you want to call it) is that this subject (not to mention the time and expense I imagine was involved in bringing it to us)cries out for a second hour. You touched on some of the broader themes in the beginning but it just felt like the hour slipped away before you could really flesh them out. All of the stories deserved every minute they had so editing wasn't the issue. I was just left wanting more (not unusual for Radiolab, admittedly) and feeling that the constraints of one hour might have done a small disservice to the subject as well as Tim's efforts. I bet there's a lot of good stuff on the cutting room floor...if necessary, augment that with a couple related segments, sprinkle it with some more wise ruminations from Jad and Robert, rearrange the whole thing into a 2 hour it Galapagos The Director's Cut or Galapagos Redux. Please?

Jul. 22 2014 05:36 PM
Greg Z

Great episode. Getting rid of the goats was a conservation victory. You need to visit the islands and see its biodiversity to really understand that. A video to give you a sense of that:

Jul. 22 2014 03:47 PM
Yeti from Niagara Falls

Great episode, I especially loved the part where you describe the hunting of the goats. Thrilling stuff!

Jul. 22 2014 03:07 PM

This episode makes me really sad and mad. Sadness in terms on how the human population has surpassed to protect themselves and madness through greed and selfishness of human nature rather than the environment.

And also, seriously? Why are people more concerned for the goats?! They are INVASIVE species! I rather see 250g's of goats eradicated than invading and killing the native species/plants.

Jul. 22 2014 02:48 PM

This episode was so sad, so thanks for ending it on a positive note.

Jul. 22 2014 01:55 PM

Hey, Radiolab. I have been a fan for years and years. You are my favorite podcast. Ever. However, I would have appreciated one of your "this may be upsetting to some listeners - you might want to fast forward" message or similar before the goat annihilation started. Extremely disturbing and I'll never get those pictures out of my head. Please be a bit more sensitive in future. Thanks.

Jul. 22 2014 01:30 PM
Andrea Gordon from NYC / Galapagos

Darwin Animal Doctors directly saves animals in the Galapagos by providing free veterinary care at a permanent clinic. One of the services we provide is free spaying and neutering. This minimizes domestic animal and wildlife interactions, which can spread invasive diseases between them.

Check us out!

Jul. 22 2014 01:05 PM
William from the Mojave

I thought that restoration ecologists have pretty much given up on the idea of restoring pre-human ecosystems. Perhaps that is a difference in the fundamental approaches of restoration ecologists and conservation biologists. In the US the goals of restoration are generally just pre-European. That isn't because the American Indian populations didn't affect ecosystems; they were masters of manipulating ecosystems. They enlarged the range for American Bison to include parts of the midwest that would become forests, if allowed to go through natural succession without anthropogenic fire, by regularly burning the areas so they would produce herbaceous forage for ruminants, and that was primarily to increase the availability of this beefish meat source.

The idea that we need to protect the earth from humans seems silly to me. When viewed through a geologic timescale, the existence of humans is just a blink of an eye. Regardless of what we do, our species will go extinct in thousands, or ten-thousands, or hundred thousands, or (if we're more successful than I'd ever expect) millions of years. So, it's not worth fighting for the health of the earth for the earth's sake; the earth will go on without us with endless speciation and extinction. Instead, the reasons to be concerned about climate change and the destruction of natural spaces are humanism and romanticism.

If climate change, coupled with population growth, creates shortages, then it is likely to create violent conflicts, especially in third world countries (that's the humanism). A lot of people like natural spaces, so we should preserve some (that's the romanticism). Then, the question arises about how a natural space can be best preserved. Is it by using a native species on the brink of extinction or by replacing it with a close relative that could fill the same ecological niche.... and I've gone to far.

These are interesting topics! I enjoyed the episode.

Jul. 22 2014 02:41 AM
Ken Pidcock from Wilkes-Barre, PA, USA

Listening to the transition from tortoises to parasitic flies, I was reminded of a rather famous quote from ecologist Robert M. May (Phil Trans R Soc Lond B 330: 293-304, 1990: As one moves down the size spectrum of organisms, from the romantic large mammals and birds, through nondescript small arthropods, on down to protozoan, bacterial and viral species, not only does concern for diversity and conservation fall away, it even changes sign.

Jul. 21 2014 07:56 PM
Dan from New Haven, CT

Just to note - there are still people eating tortoises in Galapagos, on the southern end of Isabela Island. This is still a very real threat to the stability of these populations and the tortoise species living there. In fact there have been observed localized extinctions of populations within the last 20 years primarily from hunting.

Jul. 21 2014 02:39 PM

Definitely sad, but an interesting story nonetheless. Wish you could do more hour-long episodes!

Jul. 21 2014 02:34 PM
Paul from Houston, TX

I didnt want this episode to end.

Jul. 21 2014 12:28 PM
Mike from Chicago

It blows my mind that everyone is supporting the stupid goats. These invasive species were eradicating the native population and needed to be dealt with. The only thing worse than the goats were the humans that want to destroy the environment too. It's a bit sad that the only way to deal with them was to kill them but thems the breaks. The violent fishermen and others like them, on the other hand, should all be locked in prison for their attacks.

Jul. 21 2014 11:26 AM
ruth from california

Excellent reminder that even the Galapagos are impacted by invasive species and pests. Powerful stories, great episode.

Jul. 20 2014 12:46 PM
Rufus Chaney

I am unable to download the podcast from here or from iTunes

Jul. 20 2014 11:50 AM
Kalopin from here

Galapagos exists because it was furthest away [and still near enough to the equator]from an impact by the Moon to the Mediterranean to start the Holocene era. Most monolithic structures were built during the Pleistocene when there was less gravity. This is also the reason for the extinction of megaflora and megafauna...

Please see "Pyramids in the Meltrock [Holocene/Lunar impact event]" at,

as this may go against mainstream, there will be no other option but to admit this to be factual once all the information has been thoroughly examined.

Could you make a discussion about this impact scenario? Sincerely,
Tony Hood

Jul. 20 2014 10:25 AM
Max from New York

In Environmental Economics there are a few simple solution to these backlashes by the human businesses such as that of the fishermen. One was mentioned: change the economy into one that places value on the resource you are trying to save.

Another may work if there is no room for a tourism industry, such as countries that are dangerous or unable to adapt to accept tourists. The rich countries that value the natural resource pay the poorer country directly to protect it. It is a similar concept as the tourist example. With tourism, you incentivize businesses to protect the environment, this is great because it creates a lot of jobs and helps the local economy. When countries exchange money directly for environmental conservation, it becomes the role of the local government to protect the environment. This is expensive for the rich countries and the poorer countries' governments may have difficulty managing and protecting the land.

The goal, either way, if to give the resource a monetary value. If you value nature but are unwilling to pay for it, who do you expect to protect it?

Jul. 20 2014 06:51 AM
Tim Reyes from South Bay, CA

Hey I just saw the two of you on Colbert Report. Way to go, you joined the fraternity. And last night, I just listened to the whole dedicated hour to the Galapagos Islands. As Stephen would say, blessed their hearts. Often, I'll use a pseudonym to comment on Op Eds and news stories in high profile web sites. This time, not. I'm in pretty good company. This is a pretty messed up piece. Smokn' the Galapagos cactus were ya? Or I have been watching too much Colbert? The tragedy of what you described does not warrant instilling a Radio Lab entertainment value to it. I got it- things are pretty F***ed up on the islands but it doesn't work in this "Radio Lab" piece. All the tape should have ended up on the Radio Lab floor, start over or pass it to another program.

Jul. 19 2014 11:05 PM
Michelle from Freeland Pa

I look forward to the new Radiolab every week, but this one was awful. I couldn't listen to more than 20 minutes of it. Too too sad.

Jul. 19 2014 07:53 PM
Bonane from Chicago, Ill

Boy I love Radio lab but hearing about all those murdered goats and turtles made me a bit sad...

Jul. 19 2014 04:45 PM

"On average 50% of your DNA comes from your mum and 50% from your dad, but it varies" No its exactly 50:50, but not so for grandparents.

Jul. 19 2014 03:54 PM
Manuel Tomas from Half Moon Bay, CA


Jul. 19 2014 01:20 PM
Andy Drumm from Arlington VA

What a wonderful piece of journalism! Congratulations to all those involved.

The Galapagos has had a big impact on my life and its wonderful to see the spotlight focused so engagingly on the issues that makes it such a special place, and on the people dedicating their lives to keeping it that way.

The tourism industry has to assume considerably more responsibility than it has done to date, for its lead role in driving immigration, urban expansion and the introduction of invasive species if it is to aspire to the term "sustainable".

Jul. 19 2014 08:29 AM
Nikki from Louisiana

Wow. Mass murder to the exploitation of female reproductive organs, you guys really covered it all. I was shocked to hear the excitement and amusement in your voices. Way to go.

Jul. 19 2014 02:19 AM
Chase Wilson from Kirkland, WA

"In the 1970’s, a research group led by Peter R. and B. Rosemary Grant of Princeton University began studying these finches and discovered that after a year of drought on the islands, finches that had slightly bigger beaks survived more readily than those with smaller beaks. Since observing the size and shape of the beaks is one of the primary ways of determining the species of finches, these findings were assumed to be significant. “The Grants have estimated,” continues the NAS brochure, “that if droughts occur about once every 10 years on the islands, a new species of finch might arise in only about 200 years.” However, the NAS brochure neglects to mention that in the years following the drought, finches with smaller beaks again dominated the population. The researchers found that as the climatic conditions on the island changed, finches with longer beaks were dominant one year, but later those with smaller beaks were dominant. They also noticed that some of the different “species” of finches were interbreeding and producing offspring that survived better than the parents. They concluded that if the interbreeding continued, it could result in the fusion of two “species” into just one. So, does natural selection really create entirely new species? Decades ago, evolutionary biologist George Christopher Williams began questioning whether natural selection had such power. In 1999, evolutionary theorist Jeffrey H. Schwartz wrote that natural selection may be helping species adapt to the changing demands of existence, but it is not creating anything new. Indeed, Darwin’s finches are not becoming “anything new.” They are still finches. And the fact that they are interbreeding casts doubt on the methods some evolutionists use to define a species."

-Was Life Created? pg 21

Jul. 19 2014 12:36 AM
Lisara7 from Florida

I'm at a loss of words about the goats. Was that the only possibility? 250,000 goats?

Jul. 19 2014 12:33 AM
Erin from really far from Galapagos!

Pretty wild! It is sad that humans have tainted every corner of the earth & I am glad there are scientists trying to preserve pristine wilderness or at least attempting to re-create a similar pre-human ecosystem... Very interesting podcast!!! (I love the get-it-on music for the turtles, by the way!!!)

Jul. 18 2014 10:15 PM

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