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The reptile is believed to be responsible for 40 percent of the tortoise population on Española Island

By Gabrielle Chung
January 13, 2020 08:50 PM
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Diego the Tortoise
Credit: Facebook

A Galápagos tortoise named Diego is heading into retirement as one proud dad.

The reptile, who is estimated to be over 100 years old, is being returned to his home on Española Island in Ecuador after spending more than 40 years in a breeding program to help save his species from extinction, according to a statement released by Galápagos National Park on Friday.

A member of the Chelonoidis hoodensis subspecies, Diego had been living at San Diego Zoo for 30 years before he was transferred to Santa Cruz Island in the Galápagos in 1976 as a part of a conservation program. There, Diego joined 14 other tortoises — two males and 12 females — to help repopulate his species.

Diego, who exhibited an exceptional sex drive during his time in the program, is responsible for 40 percent of the tortoises that live on Española Island today, Galápagos National Park said in their statement.

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Wildlife experts determined that the program was a success thanks to Diego and his rampant mating, raising his species’ population in the Galápagos from 15 to 2,000.

Along with news of Diego’s release, officials announced their decision to shut down its captive breeding program — which repatriates tortoises bred in captive to Española Island — following an ecological survey conducted by the Galapagos National Park Directorate and Galapagos Conservancy.

“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 Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative.

Having fulfilled its restoration goals, Diego and the other 14 tortoises will be released back to their island of origin in March after a short quarantine process to avoid carrying seeds from plants that are not native to Española Island, park officials said.

“There’s a feeling of happiness to have the possibility of returning that tortoise to his natural state,” director of the Galapagos National Park Jorge Carrión told the AFP.

According to Galapagos Conservancy, the Chelonoidis hoodensis subspecies is one of 14 identified across the Galápagos Islands. As of 2018, 12 tortoise subspecies are considered endangered or vulnerable, while two have gone extinct completely.

The Chelonoidis abingdonii tortoise was the latest to go extinct when Lonesome George, the very last Pinta Island tortoise, passed away in 2012 without successfully producing an offspring.