RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty
Alex Heigl
September 20, 2016 01:12 PM

Diego is 100 years old. He’s a giant hooded tortoise from Española, one of the Galapagos Islands, and he’s got 800 children.

That makes the amorous Diego, or “Super Diego,” as he’s known to islanders, the reason we still have giant hooded tortoises. Fifty years ago, when Diego was a randy teen, there were only 14 members of Chelonoidis hoodensis on Española. Then he set to work. Since 1976, he’s fathered 2 out every 5 giant hooded tortoises alive.

Like all great lovers, Diego’s story is shrouded in myth. He departed his home sometime between 1900 and 1959, thanks to a scientific expedition, and wound up at the San Diego Zoo. During the nation’s bicentennial, scientists determined that the giant hooded tortoise was a discrete species in need of saving, and Diego was returned to his native land, ready to get busy.

“He’s a very sexually active male reproducer. He’s contributed enormously to repopulating the island,” Washington Tapia, a tortoise preservation specialist at Galapagos National Park, told Agence France-Presse. The extent of his work was only realized six years ago, when scientists did a genetic study and realized that he’d fathered 40 percent of the offspring the breeding program had released into the wild.

The 5-foot, 175-pound Diego (…ladies) lives in an enclosure with a harem of six females. His remains the only case in which the repopulation of a species can be traced to a single source. The proud father remains a popular tourist attraction on the island and, at only 100, presumably has at least a few good years of saving the species left in him — tortoises have lived up to 170 years in captivity. Mazel tov, Diego.

 

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