A species of giant tortoise thought to have gone extinct over a century ago was found on the Galapagos island of Fernandina, stunning researchers and bringing hope to conservationists.
According to Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment, the female Fernandina Giant Tortoise found Sunday is likely over 100 years old. While genetic tests are still being conducted, the experts at the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI) say they have made the first confirmed sighting of the species since 1906.
Despite being listed as “Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct)” for such an extensive period of time, bite marks, droppings, and footprints found over the years had given researchers hope that some of the animals were still alive.
Such traces of the elusive turtle motivated the successful expedition, and new signs found in the area indicate that there might be even more of the giant reptiles on Fernandina Island. The species is unique to the Galapagos, one of 14 native to the island chain.
“This encourages us to strengthen our search plans to find other (tortoises), which will allow us to start a breeding program in captivity to recover this species,” said Danny Rueda, the director of the Galapagos National Park.
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.
The Galapagos were made into a national park in 1959 in order to preserve the island ranges’ rich biological diversity, which helped inspire Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Despite the island deriving its name from its giant tortoises, volcanic activity, invasive species, and human exploitation have resulted in the animals becoming endangered.
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