Fernanda has spent a lot of her life living under the radar. It’s not too hard when the last time her species was observed by humans was in 1906.
For more than a century, researchers thought the giant tortoises of Fernandina Island in the Galapagos had gone extinct, extirpated by violent eruptions of the Fernandina Volcano, Live Science reports.
After analyzing blood samples from Fernanda, scientists at Yale University confirmed that this long-held assumption was inherently false. The Giant Tortoises never left Fernandina Island, but they are far fewer in number than researchers observed 115 years ago.
“One of the greatest mysteries in [the] Galápagos has been the Fernandina Island Giant Tortoise. Rediscovering this lost species may have occurred just in the nick of time to save it,” Dr. James Gibbs, vice president of Science and Conservation at the Galápagos Conservancy and tortoise expert at the State University of New York, wrote in a statement. “We now urgently need to complete the search of the island to find other tortoises.”
Fernanda represents a hope for her species that researchers once found on Pinta Island with Lonesome George, a tortoise that lived to be 100 years old and died in June 2012.
The current population of giant tortoises in the Galápagos is estimated to be between 200,000 to 300,000, about 15% of peak population numbers.
“We desperately want to avoid the fate of Lonesome George,” said Danny Rueda Córdova, the director of the Galápagos National Park Directorate. “My team from the Park and Galápagos Conservancy are planning a series of major expeditions to return to Fernandina Island to search for additional tortoises beginning this September.”
Fernanda will be monitored closely, and researchers are already tracking down potential mates, which they hope to find elsewhere on the island. The plan is to bring Fernanda and her mate to Galápagos National Park’s Giant Tortoise Breeding Center in Santa Cruz and encourage them to breed. Any of Fernanda’s young would be raised in captivity and eventually brought back to Fernandina.
The giant tortoise is just one of many tortoise and turtle species facing perilous threats. Click below to make a difference.
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