This species of giant tortoise hasn’t been seen on the equatorial Galapagos archipelago since 1906. Some believed this animal to be extinct due to such a prolonged period of no sightings. However a giant tortoise has recently been spotted confirming their continued existence.
A very long game of hide and seek
The Giant Tortoises of the Galapagos Islands are emblematic. This is why their story is so tragic. When Charles Darwin saw them for the first time in 1835 there seemed to be at least 15 different species that coexisted peacefully among the volcanoes. However several thousands of these tortoises were then massacred. Now only a handful of Giant Tortoise species remain and the majority are endangered. One of these species is the Fernandia Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis phantasticus) which hasn’t been seen since 1906. It was widely believed to be extinct. However a female has recently been spotted in a very secluded part of the island.
It is like a very long game of hide and seek that lasted more than 110 years. The tortoise’s shell is smooth and it has a completely pink muzzle. The Equatorial Environment Minister Marcelo Mata has just announced that the female spotted is a more than 100 years. It is possible that the female is not alone as several traces near to the discovery have also been spotted. Therefore other females and males could also be living close by which could lead to potential reproduction possibilities.
“Females can store sperm for a long time,” explained Stuart Pimm, an ecologist from Duke University (United States) to the Associated Press agency. “So there is perhaps hope.”
Congrats to the #ExtinctorAlive team and @ForrestGalante for finding a Fernandina tortoise presumed to be extinct since 1906! With her discovery, there's hope that more species are out there surviving against great odds. 🐢https://t.co/i824eLFEWb pic.twitter.com/2QkWyIkBIH
— Animal Planet (@AnimalPlanet) February 21, 2019
The Tortoise placed in security
Although humans are to blame for the disappearance of many of the region’s giant tortoises due to hunting and the trade of exotic wild animals, the Giant Fernandina Tortoise is faced with a different threat. It’s environment is not the most secure as it is often furrowed by lava flows which have a potentially devastating effect. For the tortoise’s protection, mission officials preferred to remove the tortoise from it’s natural environment and place it in a specialised conservation centre on the island of Santa Cruz.
Biologist think that the first Giant Tortoises came to this chain of volcanic islands about three to four million years ago, taken by ocean currents. As this environment was free from natural predators the tortoise was able to multiply and diversify into multiple species. During the 18th and 19th century the troubles started as sailors started to hunt the tortoises for their meat after their long travels across the Pacific Ocean. The introduction of rats and dogs to the island also attacked the tortoises’ eggs which then contributed to the demise of species.