Believed to be extinct over a century ago, a species of giant tortoise surprised biologists visiting Ecuador’s Fernandina Island, Environment Minister Marcelo Mata said Tuesday.
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"WORLD NEWS | On Fernandina Island - # Galápagos, the expedition led by @parquegalapagos and @SaveGalapagos, located a specimen (adult female) of the turtle species Chelonoidis Phantasticus, which was believed to have been extinct for more than 100 years," the official wrote on Twitter.
The reptile is believed to be over 100 years old and was found by members of the Galapagos National Park (PNG) and the U.S. NGO Galapagos Conservancy.
In a report published in 2017, the International Union for Conservation of Nature listed the Fernandina Giant Tortoise as "Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct)."
Weighing an average of 76 kg (168 lbs) and measuring a length of 61 cm (24 in), the last possible sighting was reported in 2009. Although the most recent confirmed encounter was registered in 1906. Since then, scat and bite marks on cacti were found, but no tortoises. Researchers said the majority may have been killed off by the “frequent volcanic lava flows that nearly cover the island.”
Director of the Galapagos National Park, Danny Rueda, said, "This encourages us to strengthen our search plans to find other tortoise, which will allow us to start a breeding program in captivity to recover this species."
The tortoise was transferred to the Giant Turtle Breeding Center on Santa Cruz Island where she will be cared for by park rangers.
Stuart Pimm, a professor of conservation ecology at Duke University, said, “They will need more than one, but females may store sperm for a long time. There may be hope.”