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News > Science and Tech

Extinct Species of Turtle is Making a Comeback in the Galapagos Islands

  • A hybrid Floreana tortoise on the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

    A hybrid Floreana tortoise on the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. | Photo: Reuters

Published 14 September 2017

The Chelonoidis elephantopus or the Floreana tortoise is the subject of a genetically informed captive breeding program.

A species of turtle, extinct for more than 150 years in the Galapagos Islands, is being resurrected thanks to a new program.

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The joint project is being run by the Galapagos National Park Management (DPNG) and the US non-governmental organization Galapagos Conservancy.

The journal. Scientific Reports, says a remote volcano in the Islands hosts many of the animals with ancestry from a species previously declared extinct, the Chelonoidis elephantopus or Floreana tortoise.

Of 150 individuals with distinctive morphology sampled from the volcano, genetic analyses revealed that 65 had C. elephantopus ancestry.

Thirty-two were then transferred from the volcano’s slopes to a captive breeding center by scientists.

A genetically informed captive breeding program is now being initiated and it's hoped it will, in the coming years, return C. elephantopus tortoises to Floreana Island to protect its ecosystems. 

A group of researchers from Yale University published the results of the research saying cases where extinct species are 'reborn' are rare.

"Species are being lost at an unprecedented rate due to environmental changes caused by humans," the report said.

For the breeding program, the scientific team paired four breeding groups of turtles, each with three females and one male. They believe they will be able to release new turtles in Floreana Island in about five years.

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The Floreana tortoise was believed to be extinct -  whalers used to eat them during their sea journeys because they could survive without water or food for a long time. 

The sailors would then leave any animals who had survived the journeys on different islands,

Scientific Reports says, "Ironically, it was the fortuitous translocations of fishermen centuries ago that created the unique opportunity to revive this species". 

Walter Bustos, Director of the Galapagos National Park, said the project was a true challenge and one which they will "assume with the greatest responsibility because it means giving Galapagos healthy ecosystems with the capacity to continue generating environmental services for the benefit of humanity."

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