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A total of 67 tortoises hatched this year from the first nesting season of the new Floreana tortoise breeding program, which was started in March by the Galapagos National Park to “bring back” the extinct Floreana tortoise (Chelonoidis niger) using tortoises found on Wolf Volcano to have partial genetic ancestry with this species. The young tortoises are all healthy, and will eventually be released onto Floreana Island when they are five-six years old as part of a long-term program to repopulate the island with giant tortoises.
The Floreana tortoise went extinct on its home island approximately 150 years ago due to exploitation by whalers and other mariners for food, as well as hunting by the first settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries. Whether to lighten their load for the journey home or to make additional room for whale oil, mariners dropped a large number of tortoises from other islands at Banks Bay, at the base of Wolf Volcano. Scientists on an expedition to Wolf Volcano in 2015 found 19 tortoises with partial Floreana tortoise ancestry, which were transported back to Santa Cruz for the new breeding program.
The restoration of a tortoise population on Floreana Island with high genetic similarity to the island’s original tortoise is part of a larger island restoration program, which includes the elimination of introduced mammals and the return of other species that disappeared from the island (such as the native snake and Floreana mockingbird).