'Extinct' tortoise rediscovered on Galapagos islands

Clay Curtis
February 22, 2019

Ecuadorian park guards and a USA conservation organisation have found a turtle whose species was believed extinct for a century in one of the islands of the Galapagos archipelago.

According to Galapagos Conservancy, the only known specimen of Chelonoidis Phantasticus, commonly known as Fernandina Island tortoise, "was collected during the California Academy of Sciences expedition in April 1906".

The animal "exceeds 100 years" in age and is "a very old tortoise", said Washington Tapia of Galapagos Conservancy, a USA non-profit dedicated to conserving the Galapagos.

Investigators think there may actually be more members of the species on the island due to the presence of tracks and scat on the island.

In order to facilitate the repopulation process, the tortoise was immediately taken to a breeding facility on nearby Santa Cruz Island and put under the care of park rangers. "BREAKING NEWS! GC's own @wacho_tapia just returned from Fernandina Island in #Galapagos, where they discovered a female #tortoise", the tweet read. Though a female of the species has never been seen before, a team of turtle biologists used photos and videos of the tortoise to confirm features like its back and face matched what they believed to be the features of the Fernandina.

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The archipelago of volcanic origin hosts unique and endemic species, especially giant tortoises, marine iguanas, penguins, cormorants and sea lions.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature now lists the Fernandina Giant Tortoise as critically endangered and possibly extinct.

The discovery was made by a joint expedition between the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park and the USA organisation Galapagos Conservancy. Fernandina, the third largest and youngest of the islands, remains the most volcanically active.

Their numbers were also hit by invasive species such as rats, pigs and dogs, which eat their eggs, while other introduced domestic animals like goats destroyed their habitat.

The Galapagos island chain is located in the Pacific Ocean, about 600 miles off of the coast of Ecuador.

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