Population: 1-5 members
Status: CRITICALLY ENDANGERED
They’re back! Back from extinction! Once presumed extinct, the Fernandina Giant Tortoise or Chelonoidis phantasticus, native to the Fernandina island in the Galápagos, has recently resurfaced as of February. On February 17th, Washington Tapia, four rangers, and Forrest Galante, a biologist associated with Animal Planet which financed the commission, discovered a female tortoise about 100 years old believed to be Fernandina Giant Tortoise. Even though DNA samples must be sent back to Yale University to confirm her identity, which could take months, Tapia and the team have complete confidence that she’s the real deal. Originally, scientists presumed that the tortoise perished due to volcanic activity as the last official sighting of it was in 1906. In 1964, a helicopter survey of the island found remnants like tracks and bite marks on cacti that suggested the tortoise’s survival but nothing conclusive.
The island Fernandina is the youngest island in the archipelago with an active shield volcano. The tortoises like the other animals are adapted to live in the very dry, arid shrublands of the island. They rely on the available cacti and plant matter for their herbivorous diet. These animals constantly live under the threat of volcanic activity and lava flows once thought to have destroyed these poor creatures.
It is critical to preserve these tortoises as ecosystems depend on them. Similar to bats within Central America, tortoises in the Galápagos maintain the stability of ecosystems through seed dispersal after they eat. Moreover, of the fifteen documented tortoise species on the Galápagos, twelve of them, including this one, remain critically endangered while the other three species are declared extinct (IUCN has not reported one of them as extinct because it was never formally described).
Although this species seems forsaken and destined for extinction, there is still hope. If more of these Giant Tortoises are found, they could potentially reproduce to revive the species and bring it back from extinction. For instance, the Galápagos Conservancy once raised a tortoise species from only 14 individuals back to 7,000 individuals. Another hope lies within the possibility that the female tortoise stored sperm of her mates to use for reproduction. Currently, the malnourished tortoise discovered on the island has been transported to the national park facility in Isla Santa Cruz, Fausto Llerena Tortoise Breeding Center, where she is being nourished back to health.
(Unfortunately this species does not have enough information for all the facts to be primarily about it.)
- The female tortoise discovered is named “Fern”
- Tortoises like the Fernandina Giant Tortoise can live up to 200 years old
- This tortoise species was on the Search for Lost Species’ top 25 “most wanted” species and is now the third species on it to have been found
- The Fernandina island is the least explored island with the most active volcano
- A shield volcano is a volcano with gradual slopes that looks like a “warrior’s shield” on the ground
- Llerena Tortoise Breeding Center has fostered and released 4,000 individuals of different Giant Tortoise species back into the wild
How to Help
Without Animal Planet’s funding and support, this expedition would not have been possible and actions to save this species would have been postponed at the very least. Stay tuned for the Fernandina Giant Tortoise’s appearance on the show “Extinct or Alive” in the summer of 2019 with the host Forrest Galante.
The Galapagos Conservancy aids these and other species recover from their extreme population declines through captive breeding until the biologists there deem the species strong enough to release back into the wild. Help support them by donating.
After hearing the news, both the Global Wildlife Conservation and Turtle Conservancy partnered up for a donation of a $100,000 match for more conservation efforts towards the Fernandina Giant Tortoise. Donate to these causes to help bring this species back.