Ecuador confirmed on Tuesday, after DNA analysis, that the giant tortoise discovered in 2019 in the Galapagos archipelago really belongs to a species that experts believe has become extinct for more than a century.
“It was believed to be extinct for more than 100 years! We have confirmed its existence. A turtle of the species Chelonoidis phantasticus has been discovered in #Galapagos,” tweeted Environment Minister Gustavo Marique.
To pinpoint its species, a team of geneticists at Yale University compared the DNA of this female turtle found on Fernandina Island to that of a male, the last recorded in the Galapagos in 1906. This specimen is now a museum specimen and belongs to the California Academy of Sciences.
The giant tortoise Chelonoidis phantasticus endemic is Fernandine, an uninhabited island of 638 km2 in the Galapagos, a volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean known for its unique flora and fauna.
It is one of 15 species of giant tortoises recorded in the archipelago, including two extinct ones, Chelonoidis spp from Santa Fe Island and Chelonoidis abigdoni from Pinta Island.
“This discovery of course strengthens our hope to save this species, to avoid a fate similar to that of George the Lonely,” the archipelago’s emblem, said Danny Rueda, director of the Galapagos National Park (PNG), according to comments reported by the Environment Department.
George, the last specimen of Chelonoidis abingdoni, died without offspring in 2012 because he failed to agree to mate with females of similar species.
The ministry also announced that national park rangers and scientists are preparing an expedition to Fernandina Island for the second half of the year to search for other specimens of Chelonoidis phantasticus.
The adult female, discovered in 2019 during an expedition organized by PNG and the U.S. Galapagos Conservancy, was hidden in vegetation growing between the petrified lava flows of La Cumbre volcano, one of the most active on the planet.
Giant turtles arrived three to four million years ago in the Galapagos archipelago, located 1,000 km off the coast of Ecuador and used by English naturalist Charles Darwin to develop his theory of evolution. Some changes.
It seems that at that time the sea currents scattered them on the islands and thus developed 15 different species, two of which are extinct today.