February 19, 2019
GC’s Wacho Tapia, Director of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, discovered a female tortoise on Fernandina with the help of Galapagos National Park ranger Jeffreys Málaga on a recent expedition to the island. Fernandina tortoises (Chelonoidis phantasticus) were believed to be extinct for more than a century, making this a truly monumental find — and an emotional high point in Wacho’s life’s work:
“The conservation of Galapagos giant tortoises has been my world for 29 years, and I have been involved in many exciting events, including the discovery of a new species of tortoise. But this time, the emotion I feel is indescribable. To find a living tortoise on Fernandina Island is perhaps the most important find of the century. The only live specimen of the species from Fernandina was found 112 years ago. Now we just need to confirm the genetic origin of this female.”
Park rangers Eduardo Vilema, Roberto Ballesteros, and Simon Villamar also participated in the expedition, which was funded by Animal Planet, and helped transfer the tortoise to the breeding center on Santa Cruz Island. Geneticists at Yale University will evaluate a blood sample to confirm her genetic origin, and another trip to Fernandina is planned for later this year to search for additional tortoises. If more tortoises are located, they will be brought into captivity with this female in hopes that they may breed and young can be reared — eventually to be returned to their native island.
Watch this space for more details as this story develops. Photo © GTRI.