Diego and 14 other male tortoises have returned to their native Española, one of Ecuador’s Galápagos islands. The tortoises were put out to pasture on Monday after decades of breeding in captivity on Santa Cruz Island.
The breeding program was a success, producing more than 2,000 giant tortoises since it began in the 1960s. Diego, aged 100, is thought to have fathered hundreds of progeny, around 40% of the 2,000 giant tortoises alive today by some estimates.
Ecuador’s environment minister, Paulo Proaño Andrade, said the breeding program was “closing an important chapter” in its history.
Diego and the other tortoises were returning home after “saving their species from extinction”, the minister wrote on Twitter, adding Española welcomed them “with open arms”. According to scientists who worked with the breeding project, Diego appeared to produce to produce the most off-spring.
The tortoises had to be placed in quarantine before they could return to Española, an uninhabited island considered one of the oldest parts of the Galápagos.
The quarantine had nothing to do with the coronavirus but was necessary to prevent the turtles from carrying seeds from plants that are not native to the island.
Around 50 years ago, there were only two males and 12 females of Diego’s species alive on Española. To save his species, Chelonoidis hoodensis, Diego was brought in from California’s San Diego Zoo to take part in a breeding program.
The Galápagos National Parks service believes Diego was taken from his native Española in the early 20th Century by a scientific expedition. He weighs about 80kg (175lb), is nearly 90cm (35in) long and 1.5m (5ft) tall at full stretch.
he Galápagos Islands, 906km (563 miles) west of continental Ecuador, are a Unesco World Heritage site renowned worldwide for their unique array of plants and wildlife.
The indigenous species found on the Galápagos, including iguanas and tortoises, played a key role in the development of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Tourists across the globe travel there to see its biodiversity.
Credit: The BBC