El Chato tortoise reserve in the highlands of Santa Cruz is a large reserve made up of two areas; La Caseta and Cerro Chato.
It is much cooler in the highlands and the vegetation is lush, as this part of the island is often shrouded in mist. The ground is damp and there are many ponds, which the tortoises like to submerse themselves in. It is believed that they do this as a thermoregulation mechanism (for heating or cooling, depending upon the conditions) or to kill ticks and protect themselves from mosquitoes.
Most of these ‘wild tortoises’ migrate to the lowlands for the wet season, where they will mate and nest before returning to the highlands in the dry season.
Giant tortoises have very strong jaws, that are lined with sharp ridges and could easily bite off human’s finger. However, these giants are very gentle and are only known to bite humans by accident, when they misjudge food. When threatened, tortoises pull themselves into their shell with a hissing sound; the hiss is actually just the sound of the creature letting air out of its lungs.
When tortoises fight they face each other with ferocious glares, open their mouths and stretch their heads as high up as they can. The winner is the tortoise whose head reaches the highest and the loser will pull his head into his shell; a sign that the battle is over.
Visitors may enter the site without guides, however it is not recommended as it is very easy for tourists to get lost within the grounds.