Gato Ortega is a hunter.
As an employee of the municipal government of Isabela, he spends his weekdays in the main town of Puerto Villamil. But on Friday nights he returns to the island highlands, where he spends time with his family and every now and again goes hunting.
Residents are allowed to hunt feral animals on Isabela, according to Ortega, as long as they acquire permission and pay a small fee. The animals they hunt down are feral species, which are animals that have been domesticated but have escaped into the wild. Feral animals currently listed on the Galapagos National Park site include cats, donkeys, goats and pigs. Most of the feral goat population was removed from Isabela because of the damage inflicted on the tortoise population and their grazing grounds. Goats first arrived on islands when settlers brought them to the highlands to use as livestock. The animals quickly multiplied when fishermen started leaving pairs of them on other islands to serve as food sources for their long fishing expeditions.
During the implementation of Project Isabela from 1996 to 2006. over 55,000 goats were eradicated. There are still small numbers of these animals roaming the National Park area, and there are reports of wild cows and pigs as well, but their presence is diminishing greatly due to the National Park’s efforts. Hunters, as a result, have to go deeper and deeper into the Park to catch anything, and sometimes come home without anything at all.
The hunting community consists of maybe around 20-25 people, said Ortega, and hunters sometimes don’t have the money to pay for the permission to go hunting.
The animals Ortega brings back help add to his family’s food sources, and also bring him additional income to supplement his salary, which he says isn’t much. He sells the meat to a few different locales in town, and on good weekends will bring home maybe a few wild pigs.
Ortega usually brings his son Kevin with him, and has already taught two of his other sons how to hunt. “I bring them with me so they can learn how to catch [animals], how to kill, and to be like me,” he said. Ortega has a trusting relationship with his sons, and the one- or two-day trips on horseback helps this bond grow.