For the first time in over a century, a giant tortoise thought extinct has been discovered alive on the Galapagos island it calls home — offering new hope that the species could one day thrive anew.
Wacho Tapia, director of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, calls the discovery “perhaps the most important find of the century.”
Though not officially declared extinct, these giant tortoises (Chelonoidis Phantasticus) on the island of Fernandina had been feared by many to have been lost to the ages — and rightfully so. The last sighting, of a lone male tortoise, was in 1906.
In the decades since then, there had been signs of the species’ continued survival on the island. The occasional discovery of tortoise droppings and bite marks provided some reassurance, but any tortoises themselves remained out of sight.
That is, until recently.
This week, Marcelo Mata, environmental minister of Ecuador (which administers the Galapagos Islands), announced that researchers on an Animal Planet funded expedition had located a female giant tortoise on Fernandina.
“She is old but she’s alive!” Tapia wrote online, adding:
“The conservation of Galapagos giant tortoises has been my world for 29 years, and I have been involved in many exciting events, including the discovery of a new species of tortoise. But this time, the emotion I feel is indescribable.”
After eluding discovery for more than a century, the tortoise discovered on Fernandina Island was understandably shy. Hopefully, though, she’s not alone.
The lone female has since been safely relocated from Fernandina to a tortoise breeding facility on a neighboring island. Meanwhile, the search continues for others of her species — particularly a potential mate from whom a resurgence of their kind can blossom.
In the recent past, the Galapagos’ breeding program has helped stave off extinction for other rare tortoises on the small island chain. And, with any luck, one day this species will manage to return from the brink as well — slowly, as is their nature, but steadily, too.