A female Fernandina Giant Tortoise thought to be roughly 100-years-old was spotted by an expedition team who believe there are definitely more of them around.
The Fernandina Giant Tortoise was thought to be extinct. Having disappeared almost a century ago, never to be seen again. That was until a tortoise of this species was spotted in the Galapagos Islands. The sighting was officially reported by Ecuador's government. According to the statement released by the government, as reported by CNN, the expedition by the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI) managed to spot an adult female tortoise. The last time a Fernandina Giant Tortoise was seen alive was 1906. Luckily, experts believe she is not the last surviving member of her species and there are definitely more of them around.
BREAKING NEWS! GC’s own @wacho_tapia just returned from Fernandina Island in #Galapagos, where they discovered a female #tortoise. Tortoises on Fernandina have been thought to be extinct for over 100 years, so this is a monumental finding! Photos © GNPD, W. Tapia pic.twitter.com/fhQpIzsHmM— GalapagosConservancy (@SaveGalapagos) February 20, 2019
The Fernandina Giant Tortoise, also known as Chelonoidis phantasticus, was even reinstated as "critically endangered" instead of "extinct" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN.) Washington Tapia, the GTRI director and expedition leader, explained that genetic studies needed to be carried out to "reconfirm" that the tortoise found belongs to the Fernandina Island species. The Fernandina Giant Tortoise is just one of 14 giant tortoise species native to the Galapagos Islands. Most of the other species of tortoise on the island are also endangered. The population of the tortoises has dwindled mainly because of human intervention.
The Daily Mail reported that giant tortoises were over-hunted for their meat by European and other colonists who traveled to the Galapagos archipelago. They were also killed for their oil, which was used to light the lamps of Quito. Additionally, colonists also introduced new animal populations like rats, pigs, and voracious ants which would destroy the tortoise eggs and attack the hatchlings. The exploitation of the tortoises that lasted over the course of two centuries resulted in the loss of between 100,000 to 200,000 tortoises, as noted by the Galapagos Conservancy. The tortoises also had to navigate frequent volcanic activity with extensive lava flows.
"For me, it was the most important achievement of my life because I have been working on tortoise conservation for 30 years," Tapia told National Geographic. "This was basically my Oscar." The expedition was carried out jointly by the Galápagos National Park, the US-based Galapagos Conservancy, and funded by Animal Planet for an upcoming documentary series titled Extinct or Alive. The tortoise that the team spotted was thought to be roughly 100-years-old. They made the decision to take the tortoise to a breeding center on Santa Cruz Island. This was for the best since the region she was found in had few food sources nearby.
Congrats to the #ExtinctorAlive team and @ForrestGalante for finding a Fernandina tortoise presumed to be extinct since 1906! With her discovery, there's hope that more species are out there surviving against great odds. 🐢https://t.co/i824eLFEWb pic.twitter.com/2QkWyIkBIH— Animal Planet (@AnimalPlanet) February 21, 2019
Extracting the tortoise from her natural habitat was also because it would have been difficult to find her again. The rugged terrain, caused by abundant lava flows, as well as the size of the island which is over 230 square miles makes locating the animal a challenge. "It created hope for people to know conservation is possible and that changing human activities is necessary for it to continue," Tapia said. Evidence of the existence of other tortoises on the island has been examined over the years. Investigators have found tracks and feces of the tortoise, reported The Guardian.
While there is still hope that a male can be found soon, Stuart Pimm, a professor of conservation ecology at Duke University, stated, "They will need more than one, but females may store sperm for a long time. There may be hope." Forrest Galante, host and biologist with Animal Planet, who was also a part of the expedition said, "Much like Lonesome George was an icon of extinction, I believe she can become an icon of wildlife hope. She's the rarest tortoise, if not animal, in the entire world and one of the largest discoveries in the Galapagos in the last century."