Rediscovery of Extinct Giant Tortoise in Galápagos

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Rediscovery of Extinct Giant Tortoise in Galápagos

Scientists at Yale University have confirmed the rediscovery of a previously extinct Giant Tortoise in the Galápagos Islands. They nicknamed her “Fernanda”. They found her during a joint expedition at the Fernandina Island in the Galápagos. The expedition was carried out by Galápagos National Park Directorate and the Galápagos Conservancy in the year 2019 and recently they confirmed the genetic similarity between this female Giant Tortoise with the last sighted (112 years ago) Fernandina Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis phantasticus), which since then was considered lost forever. The researchers have started an imperative expedition to Fernandina Island to find a mate of Fernanda and save the species.

In the year 2012,the last Pinta Giant Tortoise (nicknamed Lonesome George) died and the species is lost forever. Though the team who found female Giant Tortoise was confident that belongs to the lost Fernandina Giant Tortoise, but to confirm the assumption, and to find how closely she matches with the deceased last Fernandina Giant Tortoise, the genetic testing was conducted. Fernanda was found to belong to the same species. This rediscovery of the lost species might have occurred at the appropriate time according to James Gibbs, the vice president of Science and Conservation at the Galápagos Conservancy and tortoise expert at the State University of New York, who considers the loss of Fernandina Giant Tortoise as one of the biggest mysteries of Galápagos and stresses the need to complete search to find other tortoises to prevent extinction and continuethe conservation of this species.

If the team is successful in finding the male Giant Tortoise of the same species, they can attempt to unite it with the recently found Fernanda at the Galápagos National Park’s Giant Tortoise Breeding Center in Santa Cruz, in an attempt to facilitate breeding and survival of the species. A major expedition in this attempt is going to start from this September as announced by Galápagos Conservancy. Hopefully, after a successful breeding, the conservationists would raise the young in captivity and finally will bring them back to Fernandina.

The Galápagos tortoise complex has 15 species in total out of which 12 are extant and 2-3 are considered extinct. These are the largest living species of tortoise, weighing around 417 kg and a lifespan of around 100 years.

In the late ’90s to take conservation measures to prevent the Giant Tortoise of Galápagos U.S.A. prohibited the taking, export, and import or trading of this species. Apart from volcanos, other threats to the survival of these species in the past included predators like pigs, dogs, fishermen, etc.

The previous male Fernandina Giant Tortoise collected in 1905-06 during the expedition by the California Academy of Science, which were decimated throughout the Galápagos archipelago in the 19th century, were believed to go extinct due to volcanic eruption in the previous centuries. Despite the abrupt fall in number, the Park Rangers are hopeful about conserving this species from the brink of extinction, for which they have even started a fundraiser.

Keywords:

Galápagos, Fernandina Giant Tortoise, Chelonoidis phantasticus, Fernanda, Extinct species, rediscovery, Galápagos tortoise, Giant Tortoise, Breeding Center Santa Cruz, Galápagos Conservancy, Pinta Giant Tortoise, Lonesome George

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