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Diego: The frisky tortoise who saved a species

Date: 21-Jan-20
Author: Liam Taylor

The Galapagos Islands were once home to fifteen species of giant tortoise.

The Galapagos Islands were once home to fifteen species of giant tortoise.

A captive breeding program for a Galápagos tortoise has been officially brought to a close after one prolific breeder brought them back from the brink.

Fewer than 60 years ago, extinction seemed to be a forgone conclusion for the giant Española tortoise (Chelonoidis hoodensis) in the Galápagos islands. Just 14 giant tortoises were left in the wild, with only three of those being males with the ability to breed.

All of these animals were taken to Santa Cruz island to be part of a captive breeding program that conservationists hoped could save the species. That’s when Diego stepped up to the plate, a male Española tortoise loaned to the program by San Diego Zoo in 1976.

As it turned out, Diego’s inclusion in the program would be pivotal as he turned out to be more than a little bit frisky. In the years since, Diego has successfully fathered 800 tortoises representing about 40% of the 2,000 animals bred through the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI) program.

Diego’s incredible sex drive is said to be one of the primary reasons for the breeding program’s success, with around 1,800 of the tortoises having been returned to Española island. Now over 100 years old, Diego has earned the right to retirement and is currently in quarantine before he joins the tortoise population he helped bring back from the brink.

"He's contributed a large percentage to the lineage that we are returning to Española," Jorge Carrion, the park's director, told AFP news agency.

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

The Galápagos Islands, 906km (563 miles) west of continental Ecuador, are a Unesco World Heritage site renowned worldwide for their unique array of plants and wildlife. There were once 15 species of giant tortoise in the Galápagos, though two of those species are now considered extinct following decades of poaching and habitat decline.


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Liam                                              Taylor
Author: Liam Taylor

Liam is Planet Ark's Communications Coordinator. Prior to joining Planet Ark Liam spent his time studying global environmental issues, travelling Southeast Asia on the cheap and working for a sustainable property management company in Bali, Indonesia.

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