Giant tortoise found in Galápagos Islands is member of species long thought to be extinct

It’s important that we work hard to protect endangered species. It’s heartbreaking to think they could go completely extinct, and be gone from the earth for good.

But in some rare cases, a species thought to be extinct is suddenly found in the wild, renewing hopes that their population could one day thrive back into existence.

That was the inspiring discovery recently, when researchers found a tortoise later confirmed to belong to a long-extinct species.

In 2019, the female tortoise was found in an expedition on Fernandina Island, in the Galápagos, by scientists from the California Academy of Sciences. Researchers suspected that the tortoise was a Chelonoidis phantasticus, also known as the Fernandina giant tortoise, a species that hadn’t been spotted since 1906, according to BBC.

Geneticists from Yale University later compared samples of the female’s DNA to the remains of a male Chelonoidis phantasticus, and determined that the tortoise was in fact part of the presumed-extinct species.

The news that a long-lost species of tortoise might be back from the dead has been widely celebrated by conservationists.

“It was believed extinct more than 100 years ago!” tweeted Ecuador’s Environment Minister Gustavo Manrique. “Hope is alive.”

“One of the greatest mysteries in Galapagos has been the Fernandina Island Giant Tortoise,” Dr. James Gibbs, Vice President of Science and Conservation for the Galapagos Conservancy, said in a press release. “Rediscovering this lost species may have occurred just in the nick of time to save it.”

The female tortoise, nicknamed “Fern,” is currently the only known member of her species. But there is evidence that there could be more Fernandina tortoises alive in the wild — and if researchers can find them soon, they may be able to save the species.

While expeditions to Fernandina Island can be difficult due to the landscape (including an active volcano) researchers are planning to return starting in September to find Fern a male mate. They could then oversee breeding before returning the tortoises to their native habitat.

“We now urgently need to complete the search of the island to find other tortoises,” Dr. Gibbs said.

We’re so glad this thought-to-be-extinct tortoise was found, and we hope more of her kind are found soon so researchers can repopulate this species!

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