For the first time in over a century, a huge tortoise thought to be extinct has been discovered alive on the Galapagos island where it calls home, providing new hope for the species’ survival.
“Perhaps the most important find of the century,” says Wacho Tapia, director of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative.
Though not officially declared extinct, many believed that these enormous tortoises (Chelonoidis Phantasticus) on the island of Fernandina had perished with the passage of time – and rightly so. In 1906, a lone male turtle was seen for the final time.
There have been hints of the species’ ongoing survival on the island in the decades since then. The finding of tortoise droppings and bite marks on occasion brought some confidence, but the tortoises themselves remained hidden.
Until lately, that is.
Marcelo Mata, Ecuador’s environment minister (who oversees the Galapagos Islands), reported last week that biologists on an Animal Planet-sponsored trip had discovered a female giant tortoise on Fernandina.
“She may be ancient, but she is still alive!” Tapia posted on the internet, saying:
“I’ve been working on the protection of Galapagos giant tortoises for 29 years, and I’ve been a part of many exciting occurrences, including the discovery of a new tortoise species.” But the sensation I’m experiencing this time is unimaginable.”
The tortoise spotted on Fernandina Island was understandably skittish after avoiding discovery for more than a century. But, hopefully, she isn’t alone.
Since then, the lone female has been securely transported from Fernandina to a turtle breeding facility on a nearby island. Meanwhile, she continues her quest for additional members of her species, particularly a possible partner from whom a revival of their species can emerge.