Tortoise Not Seen for 113 Years Found on Galapagos Island

Chelonoidis phantasticus, or the Fernandina giant tortoise, was feared extinct until an expedition found a lone female in a remote area on the island of Fernandina.

Feb 25, 2019
Carolyn Wilke
MARK ROMANOV AND JOHN HARRINGTON

Up until earlier this month, the Fernandina giant tortoise (Chelonoidis phantasticus) had not been seen alive since 1906. On February 17, an expedition in search of the tortoise, which was feared extinct, found a lone female buried in brush in a remote area on the island of Fernandina in the Galapagos, according to a statement. Based on her shell and facial features, she was identified as a member of C. phantasticus.

“The photos from the team clearly show a moderately saddle-backed, old female about half to two-thirds the size of the known male. Pending genetic confirmation, this is almost undoubtedly the lost Fernandina Giant Tortoise,” says Anders Rhodin from the Turtle Conservancy and International Union for Conservation of Nature, in the statement.

The team members suspect more tortoises may live on Fernandina because of scat and tracks they observed there. The expedition included members from the Galapagos National Park, the Galapagos Conservancy, and Animal Planet, which funded the search and will feature it on an episode of the show “Extinct or Alive.” 

The crew moved the tortoise, which may be more than 100 years old, to Santa Cruz Island where there is a giant tortoise breeding center, reports the Associated Press. If there are other living turtles, they may yet breed. 

“They will need more than one, but females may store sperm for a long time,” says Duke University professor of conservation ecology Stuart Pimm in the AP article. “There may be hope.”