Quito, May 25 (EFE).- A tortoise of a species that was considered extinct more than 100 years ago has been discovered on Fernandina, the westernmost island of Ecuador’s Galapagos archipelago, the directorate of the Galapagos National Park (PNG) announced on Tuesday.
The discovery offers the international scientific community the possibility of restoring the population of these tortoises, currently only present in this archipelago, PNG director Danny Rueda said.
Ecuador’s environment ministry said in a statement that two years ago, researchers from PNG, which is attached to the ministry, and United States nonprofit Galapagos Conservancy, found a giant adult female tortoise on Fernandina Island.
Yale University conducted genetic studies and a DNA comparison with another specimen extracted from the island in 1906, following which it was determined that the female belongs to the “Chelonoidis phantasticus” species, considered to be extinct for more than a century.
Washington Tapia, director of Galapagos Conservancy, told EFE that the tortoise was found in 2019 and moved to PNG’s Giant Tortoise Breeding Center on Santa Cruz Island in the center of the archipelago.
Tapia said that “Fernanda,” the name given to the tortoise, weighed little when found in its habitat but had gained weight since being in captivity and was in good health.
He added that there was great hope of finding another specimen of the same species, which could mean that a captive-breeding program could be launched to repopulate its native island.
Fernanda is an old tortoise, aged between 60, 80 or “maybe 100 years,” as it is very difficult to calculate the age of the Chelonia species, Tapia explained.
According to the expert, the carapace of the tortoise “measures just 54 centimeters, which is a small size, compared to the larger ones that can measure more than 1.5 meters in length.”
Vice President of Science and Conservation at Galapagos Conservancy, James Gibbs, said that “one of the greatest mysteries of Galapagos has been the giant tortoise on Fernandina Island. The rediscovery of this lost species may have occurred just in time to save it.”
“Now we urgently need to complete the search to find other tortoises,” Gibbs added.
Rueda said they “are planning a major expedition in the second half of this year” to Fernandina Island, where droppings have been found, which gives hope for the existence of other specimens of the species there.
The population of giant tortoises on the Galapagos Islands was devastated in the 19th century due to exploitation by whalers and buccaneers, although it could also have been affected by volcanic eruptions.
The Galápagos Islands, declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1978 because of its unique terrestrial and marine ecosystem, is located about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) west of Ecuador’s Pacific coast.
The archipelago, made up of 13 large islands, 6 smaller ones and 42 islets, is considered a natural laboratory that allowed scientist Charles Darwin to develop his natural selection theory on species evolution. EFE