A species of giant tortoise believed to have been extinct for more than 100 years has been discovered on the Galapagos island of Fernandina, according to Ecuador’s government.
An adult female believed to be more than a century old was seen alive on Feb. 17 during an expedition by the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI), according to a government statement.
The last known time a Fernandina Giant Tortoise was seen alive was 1906. Reports of a possible sighting surfaced in 2006, while other past expeditions have reportedly discovered signs of their potential existence. However, this latest discovery marks the first confirmed sighting of the Fernandina Giant Tortoise in over a century.
Washington Tapia, GTRI director and expedition leader, said that genetic studies will be carried out to “reconfirm” that the tortoise found belongs to the Fernandina Island species.
Experts believe she is not alone. The tracks and scent of other tortoises, believed to be of the same species, were also observed by the team.
Conservationists have taken the tortoise to a breeding center on the nearby island of Santa Cruz. This decision was made partly to ensure that the tortoise could find food sources, which were reportedly lacking on the island that she had been living. Leaving her on Fernandina would also make it difficult for her to be found again, according to Tapia.
The discovery of the tortoise marks a huge triumph for the entire expedition team. “It created hope for people to know conservation is possible and that changing human activities is necessary for it to continue,” Tapia told National Geographic of the finding.
The Fernandina Giant Tortoise is one of 14 giant tortoise species native to the Galapagos Islands, most of which are endangered. The tortoises have been killed over the past two centuries, both for food and oil, according to the Galapagos Conservancy, which jointly forms GTRI with the Galapagos National Park.
“This encourages us to strengthen our search plans to find other (tortoises), which will allow us to start a breeding program in captivity to recover this species,” said Danny Rueda, director of the Galapagos National Park.
The Galapagos archipelago includes 19 islands in the Pacific Ocean roughly 621 miles (1,000km) from the Ecuadorian coast. Fernandina, the third largest and youngest of the islands, remains the most volcanically active.
The Galapagos were declared a national park in 1959 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
Written by Alex Stambaugh for CNN. Additional reporting by Simplemost staff.
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