Diego: Galapagos Species-Saving Giant Tortoise Returns Home

Long before the Galapagos National Park was created in 1959, several tortoises were extracted from the Galapagos Islands with scientific purposes. Diego, a giant tortoise over 100 years old native to the Galapagos Island, was one of them. More than 80 years ago, he was extracted from the archipelago to save its species.

In March 2020, the tortoise is going to return to Isla Española, which used to be its natural habitat. Isla Española is a small arid surface in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, located southeast of the Galapagos archipelago one thousand kilometers from the Ecuadorian coast. According to authorities, Diego is currently in quarantine before he returns into the wild to his homeland.

Diego belongs to the species of giant tortoises Chelonoidis hoodensis, species which several decades ago almost disappeared. Jorge Carrión, Director of the Galapagos National Park, explained that in the past the archipelago was a refuge for pirates and whalers who supplied food on the site and took giant turtles on their ships with them. The species were very interesting for pirates and whalers because they that the poor tortoises could survive for up to a year, or even longer, without eating or drinking.

During 1976 Diego was recruited for a turtle breeding program and he was taken to St. Diego´s zoo in the United States. He was one of the 3 male tortoises involved in the breeding scheme that involved 12 females. Diego earned a reputation for having lots of sex during a captive breeding scheme for giant tortoises, he has fathered over 800 children. All this happened thanks to the program of Restoration of the Giant Turtles driven by the Galapagos National Park.

Chelonoidis hoodensis tortoises passed from the critical and threating amount of 15 specimens to 2,000. Now Chelonoidis hoodensis tortoises are safe meaning this case is going to have a happy ending. But if it wasn’t because the action was taken on the matter, this formidable species could have gone extinct and that would have been a huge loss for the world´s biodiversity. Giant tortoises are very valuable species because we should remember that they played a key role in the development of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.

Nevertheless, it should be considered that Jorge Carrión established that currently, the archipelago has only 15% percent of the initial number of turtles, estimated at 400,000 individuals, of fifteen original species.

Desirée Viteri Almeida
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