Giant Tortoise Thought Extinct for 112 Years Rediscovered in Galápagos Islands

A giant tortoise found on Fernandina Island in Ecuador’s Galápagos National Park in 2019 has been confirmed as a member of Chelonoidis phantasticus, a species thought to have gone extinct more than a century ago, officials announced on May 25.

The adult female Fernandina Giant Tortoise was discovered on February 17, 2019, by members of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, led by Galapagos Conservancy and the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD). More than two years later, on May 25, 2021, Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment and Water announced that genetic testing at Yale University in the United States had confirmed similarities between the DNA of the living tortoise and that from a sample taken in 1906 from a male member of Chelonoidis phantasticus, the only other tortoise ever found on Fernandina Island.

Galapagos Conservancy welcomed the news and said “urgent expeditions” would be launched to find her a mate and save the species “to avoid the same tragic fate as Lonesome George,” the last Pinta Giant Tortoise who died in 2012.

“The Fernandina Island’s landscape is dominated by an active volcano that makes expeditions very challenging,” Galapagos Conservatory wrote. “If a male tortoise is located on the volcanic terrain, he will be united with the lone female at the Galapagos National Park’s Giant Tortoise Breeding Center in Santa Cruz. Scientists would then oversee breeding efforts, rear any young safely in captivity, and eventually return them to safe habitats on their native island of Fernandina,” they said.

The giant tortoise population was decimated in the 19th century by “whalers and buccaneers,” Galapagos Conservatory wrote, “but there is hope,” they continued. “Park rangers have found signs (tracks and scat) of at least two other tortoises on Fernandina Volcano during the searches that resulted in the discovery of the lone female,” they said in their press release. Credit: Galápagos National Park via Storyful

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