Saturday, 08 August, 2020

Sex machine: prolific Galápagos tortoise saves his species

Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption The tortoise that has saved his species from extinction Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption The tortoise that has saved his species from extinction
Deanna Wagner | 14 January, 2020, 05:13

Ecuador's Environmental Ministry announced Friday that it made a decision to end the 40-year captive breeding program on Espanola Island, demonstrating the recovery of habitat conditions and of the tortoise population, according to the Galapagos Conservancy.

Now, 15 of the original adults - 12 females and two males, Diego included - found on the island so many years ago will be released into their natural habitat come March. Around 50 years later, the breeding programme has produced more than 2,000 baby tortoises and 800 out of them are Diego's offsprings.

Diego's native archipelago, the Galapagos Islands, is famed for its rich biodiversity which was studied by English scientist Charles Darwin in the 19th century.

The turtle rescue programme, which was launched in the 1960s, involved the participation of another 13 male Galapagos turtles.

Diego will soon be returned to his home in Española Island, from where he was taken around 80 years ago. Park Rangers believed he was the patriarch of at least 40 percent of the population of 2,000 turtles.

"There is a sense of happiness to have the ability to bring that turtle back to its natural state".

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"He's contributed a large percentage to the lineage that we are returning to Espanola", said Carrion. Diego weighs about 80 kilograms, is almost 90 centimeters long and 1.5 meters tall, if he really stretches his legs and neck.

"We developed mathematical models with different possible scenarios for the next 100 years and in all the conclusion was that the island has sufficient conditions to keep the tortoise population that will continue to grow normally, even without any new repatriation of juveniles", said Washington Tapia, director of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI).

Before they are returned to Espanola, turtles must go through a quarantine period to prevent them from carrying seeds from plants that are not native to the island.

The Galapagos islands are situated 563 miles west of mainland Ecuador, of which they are a part.

Hopes for his species, Chelonoidis abingdoni, faded when Lonesome George passed away in 2012 at more than 100 years old.

There are 21 islands but only four of them are inhabited, with a population of around 25,000.