The Galapagos Islands are famous for their ancient giant tortoises.
There was one island, though, where researchers thought tortoises had gone extinct: Fernandina. This island was once home to a large population of Chelonoidis phantasticus tortoises, but over time their population started declining. The last time scientists spotted one of these tortoises was in 1906.
Scientists who went to Fernandina did see some signs that there were still tortoises on the island. Sometimes, scientists would find droppings. They also saw some tortoise bite marks on cactuses around the island. But nobody saw one of the tortoises themselves.
In February 2019, scientists finally found the last Chelonoidis phantasticus tortoise.
Researcher Wacho Tapia, the director of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, was the person who found this tortoise. After he got back from his expedition to Fernandina, he made a statement about his discovery:
“The emotion I feel is indescribable. To find a living tortoise on Fernandina Island is perhaps the most important find of the century,” Tapia wrote on Facebook. “The only live specimen of the species from Fernandina (‘Chelonoidis phantasticus’) was found 112 years ago. Now we just need to confirm the genetic origin of this female. She is old but she is alive!”
The researchers decided it would be best to take the tortoise to their sanctuary.
The researchers explained that the tortoise was living in an area with very little food, and they worried the elderly tortoise would starve. The researchers also said that they’re planning to go back to Fernandina later in 2019 to search for more tortoises.
The Galapagos Conservancy explained more about their decision to bring the tortoise to their sanctuary on their Facebook page:
“The rangers and scientists caring for the captive tortoises are experts who have only the animals’ best interest in mind. An expedition to Fernandina is planned for later this year to look for more Fernandina tortoises.Should more be found, they will be brought into captivity with this female in hopes that they may breed and young can be reared, so that they can eventually be brought back to Fernandina to live out their lives.”
The conservancy also explained that the tortoises will be able to spend a large portion of their lives on Fernandina:
“Tortoises can live to be 200 years old, so we are hopeful that there is still plenty of time for them to be returned to their native island.”
The conservancy shared news about their discovery on their Twitter page, and the tweet quickly received thousands of likes and retweets. Everyone was so happy to hear that this tortoise hadn’t gone extinct!
NOTICIA MUNDIAL | En la isla Fernandina – #Galápagos, la expedición liderada por @parquegalapagos y @SaveGalapagos, localizaron un espécimen (hembra adulta) de la especie de tortuga Chelonoidis Phantasticus, que se creía extinta hace más de 100 años. pic.twitter.com/51HbqWcwMG
— Marcelo Mata (@Marcelo_MataG) February 19, 2019
After 113 years of searching, researchers have finally found this elusive tortoise! We’re so glad this tortoise was okay, and hopefully scientists will be able to find more of these tortoises living on Fernandina. If you want to learn more about this tortoise and the other animals the Galapagos Conservancy cares for, check out their Facebook page.
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