'Extinct' Galapagos giant tortoise rediscovered 100 years later

February 21, 2019, 2:32 p.m.
The giant Galapagos tortoise Chelonoidis phantasticus, thought to have gone extinct about a century ago, is seen at the Galapagos National Park
Photo: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP/Getty Images

An adult female Fernandina giant tortoise (Chelonoidis phantasticus) was spotted on Ferndandina Island Feb. 17, the Ecuadorian government reports. This was the first time that one of these tortoises was confirmed on the island since 1906.

Members from an expedition conducted by the Galapagos National Park and the U.S.-based Galapagos Conservancy found the tortoise in a patch of vegetation, and they suspect that the female is at least 100 years old. Researchers will perform genetic tests to "reconfirm" the tortoise as a Fernandina tortoise.

"This encourages us to strengthen our search plans to find other turtles, which will allow us to start a breeding program in captivity to recover this species," Danny Rueda, director of the Galapagos National Park, said in a park Facebook post.

A Fernandina giant tortoise tucks into its shell on Santa Cruz Island A Fernandina giant tortoise tucks into its shell on Santa Cruz Island. (Photo: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP/Getty Images)

There was an unconfirmed sighting of a tortoise on Fernandina in 2009.

Investigators believe that there are likely more tortoises on the island because they found feces and other tortoise traces — like bite marks — on the island. The one discovered this week was taken from Fernandina Island to a breeding center on Santa Cruz Island where it will be kept in a special pen.

The Fernandina tortoise is one of 14 giant tortoises that are native to the Galapagos Islands, and most of them are endangered. Some experts believed that the island's frequent lava flows wiped out the tortoises.