The Directorate of the Galapagos National Park (PNG) announced Tuesday the find of a species of turtle that was believed to be extinct more than a hundred years ago and that he could have relatives on Fernandina Island, the westernmost of the Ecuadorian archipelago. This possibility, the specialists celebrated, keeps the international scientific community in suspense as it would allow restore the Galapagos tortoise colony, only existing in this archipelago, also known as “The Enchanted Islands”.
As detailed by the director of PNG, Danny Rueda, for the second semester of this year a great expedition is being planned to Fernandina Island, since samples of turtle droppings have been found there that allow inferring the existence of other individuals of the species found.
In case of finding the turtles, studies will be carried out to confirm that they belong to the species that was believed to be extinct. If the results are positive, Rueda confirmed, a program will be planned to repopulate Fernandina with this variety of turtles.
As reviewed by the Ministry of Environment of Ecuador in a statement, two years ago a group of PNG researchers -entity attached to that portfolio of State- and the Galapagos Conservancy found an adult female giant tortoise on Fernandina Island.
Later, according to the director of the Galapagos Conservancy, Washington Tapia, the specimen was transferred to the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center, which the PNG has on Santa Cruz Island, in the center of the archipelago.
Finally, the American Yale University conducted genetic studies and the respective comparison of the DNA with another specimen extracted from that same island in 1906. It was then that it was determined that the individual found belonged to the species “Chelonoidis phantasticus”, considered extinct more than a century ago.
The turtle “Fernanda”
“Fernanda”, as they say to the specimen found in Fernandina, is a old tortoise between sixty, eighty, or “a hundred years old, maybe”said the director of the Galapagos Conservancy, who clarified that it is difficult to calculate the age of a chelonian.
However, according to Tapia, its size is not as large as that of others that inhabit the archipelago. “The carapace measures only 54 centimeters, which is a small size, compared to the largest that can measure more than 1.5 meters in length, “the expert explained.
At the time of the discovery, the specialist pointed out, the turtle had weight problems, which could later be solved during captivity. Currently, Tapia celebrated, he has managed to increase his volume and is in good health.
Repopulate the island
After the appearance of Fernanda, the researchers hope to find other individuals of the same species and to start a program of captive breeding to repopulate the island of origin.
“One of the greatest mysteries of the Galapagos has been the giant tortoise of Fernandina Island. The rediscovery of this lost species may have happened just in time to save it.“said James Gibbs, vice president of Science and Conservation of the same NGO.” Now we urgently need to complete the search to find other turtles, “he added.
Galapagos giant tortoise populations were devastated in the 19th century due to exploitation by whalers and buccaneers, although they could also be affected by volcanic eruptions. The last specimen of the species “Chelonoidis phantasticus” was found in 1906 by an expedition of the California Academy of Sciences.
The Galapagos Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean about a thousand kilometers west of the continental coasts of Ecuador, were declared in 1978 as Natural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco, thanks to its rich terrestrial and marine biodiversity, home to many unique species in the world.
This archipelago, whose name is due to the giant tortoises that inhabit it, is made up of 13 large islands, 6 minor and 42 islets, and is considered a natural laboratory that allowed the English scientist Charles Darwin to develop his theory on evolution and natural selection. of the species.