Giant tortoise, thought extinct, found on Galapagos


QUITO: Conservationists in the Galapagos Islands have found a giant tortoise from a species thought to have become extinct more than a century ago.

The adult female tortoise was found on the island of Fernandina in the west of the Pacific archipelago, and is believed to be a Fernandina Giant Tortoise, also known as Chelonoidis phantasticus, a species last sighted in 1906.

The tortoise is believed to be about 100 years old.

It was taken by boat to the main Galapagos conservation center on Santa Cruz island.

The animal “exceeds 100 years” in age and is “a very old tortoise,” said Washington Tapia of Galapagos Conservancy, a US non-profit dedicated to conserving the Galapagos.

Photo shows biologist Forrest Galante with the Fernandina Tortoise, thought to have been extinct, found on a volcanic island in the Galapagos archipelago. — AFP photo

The islands are best known for their unique flora and fauna, which inspired naturalist Charles Darwin to write his landmark 1859 study on evolution, The Origin of Species.

Ecuador’s Environment Minister Marcelo Mata announced on Twitter the discovery of a specimen “of the tortoise species Chelonoidis phantasticus, which was believed to have gone extinct more than 100 years ago.”

A ministry statement said conservationists were hopeful other members of the species were on the island, judging by tracks and spores they found.

Genetic tests will be carried out to confirm the tortoise was indeed a member of the long-lost species, it said.

The Chelonoidis phantasticus species is native to Fernandina, which is uninhabited, topped by an active volcano, and one of the youngest islands in the chain.

It is one of 15 known species of giant tortoises in the Galapagos, at least two of which have already vanished.

Any remaining Fernandina tortoises may be separated from each other by recent lave flows, researchers said. — AFP