Fernandina Giant Tortoise Rediscovered in the Galápagos

The Fernandina Tortoise was previously thought to be extinct, but recent sightings of a female provide renewed hope for conservation of the species.

The Fernandina Tortoise (Chelonoidis phantasticus), a magnificent species found in the Galápagos was previously thought to be extinct. However, a sighting has just been confirmed by the government of Ecuador after for the first time in 113 years. During an expedition to the island of Fernandina earlier this month, the Galápagos National Park and the Galápagos Conservancy made the shocking revelation that this tortoise was still present on the island. 

A photo of Fernandina Island. Credit: Andrew Turner

The last Fernandina Tortoise was spotted in 1906 during a large expedition carried out by the California Academy of Sciences. Since then, they have been declared Critically Endangered (possibly extinct) by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The last Fernandina tortoise ever seen until this week was collected from the Galapagos in 1906, photographed above in 1914 . Credit: John Van Denburgh

Fernandina is the most volcanically active of the Galápagos Islands which is believed to have been a factor in the tortoises’ decline. In April 2009, La Cumbre Volcano erupted on Fernandina Island and a small team was sent by plane to report the impacts. While in flight, the team saw what they thought might be tortoises, but due to the hazy conditions, they were unable to make a confirmation. Island Conservation Restoration Specialist, Victor Carrion, was part of the team 10 years ago and shared his experience:

There was little visibility of the ground due to the ash emanating from the volcano, but within minutes it was possible to see three black bulges, like rocks but they had a different brightness. I suspected that they were land tortoises but unfortunately could not be observed again despite several attempts of the pilot.”

This is not the first time a tortoise has been rediscovered on Galápagos. Floreana Tortoises were driven to extinction on Floreana Island by hunting and invasive rats, which feed on the small hatchlings or so researchers thought. 20 years ago, a few individuals were found on Wolf Island, a small volcanic island 200 miles away. DNA showed these individuals were Floreana Tortoises giving hope for their return home after invasive species have been removed from the island.

Hopefully, after DNA testing, the Fernandina Tortoise will show the same and provide a renewed sense of hope for the Galápagos.

Source: The Independent
Featured Photo: Two Galápagos Giant Tortoises Credit: A pair of Galapagos Tortoises. Paul Krawczuk

About Stephanie Dittrich

Stephanie Dittrich is a current senior in Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz and a transfer student from De Anza College. She is also currently pursuing a Certificate of Achievement in Geospatial Technologies and a second Associates Degree in Graphic Design from Foothill College. She has worked in multiple marketing and design focused roles at environmental nonprofits as well as the Genomics Institute at UC Santa Cruz. She just finished spending 3 months in Costa Rica conducting field work where she did an independent research project and wrote a scientific paper about flight response time in the Morpho peleides butterfly. In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys working on creative photography and design projects, often centered around wildlife photography, as well as more experimental and contemporary subject matter.

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