Diego saves his species from extension, Fathers 800 babies!!!

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The Galapagos Giant Tortoise was on the brink of extinction in the 1960s, The Galapagos turtle has made a stunning come-back in thanks to one rather productive male who is responsible for fathering more than 800 offspring, and is credited with restoring an estimated 40% of the species’ population.
Diego, a member of the endangered Chelonoidis Hoodensis subspecies of tortoise, native to Española Island of the Galapagos Island chain, has become the face of the Islands’ conservation efforts. Diego is over 130 years old has played a pivotal role in the Galapagos National Park captive breeding program over the past several decades. 
Diego was brought into captivity by Dr. Harry Wegeforth, founder of the San Diego Zoo, during one of two expeditions made to Galapagos in 1928 and 1933. Diego remained at the zoo for more than 30 years before being recruited to participate in the breeding program, which was enacted following a declaration that the Galapagos tortoises of Española Island had become critically endangered.
At the time, only 2 other males and 12 females remained in the wild. Diego joined these 14 companions at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Española Island in 1977, and has been working to help save his species ever since, fathering more than 800 offspring in that time.
After decades of contributing to conservation efforts, Diego was returned to his native Española Island in 2020 to live out his days in his natural habitat. Given the longevity of giant tortoises, Diego may continue to thrive, working his libido, in his natural environment for years to come.
  Baby Galapagos Giant Tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Station. Photo by Aaron Logan

“[Diego is] quite aggressive, active and vocal in his mating habits and so I think he has gotten most of the attention,” said professor Gibbs. Females are quite particular about who they select as mates. “It might come as a surprise but tortoises do form relationships” he said.

  • “The social hierarchies and relationships of giant tortoises are very poorly known.”
  • Giant tortoises can live up to a year without food or water.

Once their longevity was discovered it was exploited by pirates, whalers, and fisherman who would keep the animals on board ships to use for their meat and oils during long voyages.   

The decimation of the Giant Tortoise population throughout the Galapagos is credited to ease of access to the islands by pirates, whalers, and fisherman who would remove the tortoises for food. The introduction of black rats and goats to the environment also played a significant role, as the rodents would hunt tortoise babies shortly after hatching, wreaking havoc on their population, and the goats destroyed their habitat. 

“Based on the results of the last census conducted at the end of 2019 and all the data available since 1960 — both of the island and its tortoise population — we developed mathematical models with different possible scenarios for the next hundred years.

The conclusion was that the island has sufficient conditions to maintain the tortoise population, which will continue to grow normally — even without any new repatriation of juveniles,” said Washington Tapia, director of the GTRI.

“In addition to the recovery of the giant tortoise population, which went from 15 to 2,000 thanks to this program, the management actions implemented for the ecological restoration of the island — including the eradication of introduced species and the regeneration of cacti through Galápagos Verde 2050 project — have helped to ensure that the island’s ecosystems currently have adequate conditions to support the growing population of tortoises,” added the Director of the Galapagos National Park, Jorge Carrión.

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