Giant tortoise in California saves its species from extinction, fathers 800 babies

Clay Curtis
January 14, 2020

Diego, a tortoise of the endangered Chelonoidis hoodensis subspecies from Espanola Island, is seen in a breeding centre at the Galapagos National Park on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos archipelago, located some 1,000 kilometres off Ecuador's coast, on September 10, 2016.

Around 1,800 tortoises have been returned to Espanola, and the current number is a clear indication that "they are able to grow, they are able to reproduce, they are able to develop", Carrion added.

Diego, part of the Chelonoidis hoodensis species that lives on the Galapagos island of Espanola, was one of the tortoises brought to the US between 1928 and 1933 and was later placed into the Charles Darwin Research Station for protection after the species was declared critically endangered in the 1960s, according to the San Diego Zoo.

A 100-year-old Galapagos tortoise who single-handedly saved his species by fathering 800 offspring is set for release.

Such is the delicate balance of each island in the Galapagos that Diego is now in quarantine before his return home.

"It is estimated that approximately 40 percent of tortoises repatriated to the Espanola Island are his descendants", the Galapagos National Park said in a statement.

When the breeding program began, just 15 representatives of the species Chelonoidis hoodensis remained in the wild on the island of Española.

Now, with his job in breeding done, he is being released back into the wild on his home island nearly eight decades after being extracted from it.

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"He's contributed a large percentage to the lineage that we are returning to Espanola".

But when the 80kg tortoise returns to his native island - after almost 80 years away - he will join an 1,800-strong population.

'There's a feeling of happiness to have the possibility of returning that tortoise to his natural state'.

The story of Diego's skill is in sharp contrast to the sad story of Lonesome George, another species of giant Galapagos turtle that had refused to breed in captivity for years.

The long neck is critical for his species' survival, helping the tortoises crane their neck to feed on cactii.

In 2012, the last Abingdon turtle, Lonely George, who was about a hundred years old, died.

Scientists found tortoises with ancestry from an extinct Galápagos species and hope to use them to revive the animals.

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