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‘EXTINCT’ GIANT TORTOISE FOUND ALIVE

Galapagos tortoise

Over a hundred years ago the scientific collector Rollo Beck shot and skinned a lone male tortoise on Narborough Island. The remains were taken back to the museum of the California Academy of Science museum in San Francisco. It was thought that was the end of the line for tortoises on this barren volcanic island. On many Galápagos islands they had become extinct due to man’s hunting and introduction of alien species like rats, dogs and goats. On this island it may well have been due to volcanic activity.
Anecdotal evidence and unconfirmed sightings have been reported ever since but the tortoise was formally listed as ‘critically endangered (possibly extinct)’. Expeditions have only turned-up evidence of droppings. It was thought in 1906, when Beck was collecting, the best way to preserve a species was to ‘preserve’ them. That is until recently, a recent expedition of scientists and park rangers to Fernandina (as the island is now called) on February 17th found a female alive and well. Washington Tapia, Director of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, with the help of Galapagos National Park ranger Jeffreys Málaga, made this remarkable find. Even the Latin name Chelonoidis phantasticus suggests that the species was imaginary. Now the scientists will use genetic studies to confirm its origin.

The Fernandina Giant Tortoise is one of fourteen or so Galápagos giant tortoise species but only ten are thought to have survived human colonization and over-hunting. The female has a large body, smooth shell and a pink nose but no other details have been revealed. Tortoises are the largest terrestrial reptiles left on earth. Much effort has gone into their conservation ever since the Galápagos National Park was created 60 years ago. The female has been taken to the safety of the captive breeding centre on Santa Cruz Island. Fernandina is the third largest island in the archipelago and one of the most active volcanoes in the World. Many young tortoises have been returned to their native islands, it is hoped that this one will too. The hunt for a male partner continues.

Related: A Typical Day In The Galapagos Islands

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