Among the longest-running and most important conservation efforts in Galápagos is Iniciativa Galápagos — a collaborative effort between Galápagos Conservancy and the Galápagos National Park — whose focus has been rewilding giant tortoises across the archipelago. One achievement in particular stands out: the restoration of the Española Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis hoodensis). This Critically Endangered species went from just 15 individuals in the 1960s to the current number of several thousand. And we have one special individual to thank for his contribution to this amazing comeback — Diego, the father of hundreds of tortoises!
We announced that after more than 80 years away from his home, Diego was able to return to his birthplace to start his retirement. His homecoming to Española Island was well deserved, as his reproductive contributions played a key role in saving his entire species, serving as father and grandfather of perhaps one-third of the 3,000 or so Española tortoises now in existence.
Though he is getting up there in years, even for a tortoise, he is still quite an active traveler — moving vigorously around his small home range of cactus trees over the last several months. He has a small GPS tracker on his shell, enabling us to keep an eye on him from afar, following his movements five times per day. A regular stop on his meandering circuit is a solitary Opuntia cactus tree, beneath which Diego can wait for days during the dry season until gravity has its way and a cactus pad drops to the ground, where he can fetch it for a meal. When it rains, a rare event, he ventures out to search for new grass growth for a few weeks, then retreats back to the shade of his cactus trees for the rest of the year.
Diego’s active lifestyle and limited range seem to imply that he is pleased with his retirement and content to live out his days in his small part of his home island. We are all so happy that Diego is doing well and will forever be thankful for his contribution to the recovery of Española Giant Tortoises in Galápagos.