by Elizabeth Gamillo/Smithsonianmag.com
In 2019, a team of four rangers from the Galápagos National Park made a remarkable discovery. During an expedition on Fernandina Island, the team found a lone female giant tortoise belonging to a species that was thought to be extinct, reported Jill Langlois for National Geographic in February 2019. Now, geneticists have confirmed that the female tortoise is a Fernandina giant tortoise (Chelonoidis phantasticus), a species last seen in 1906, reports Asha C. Gilbert for USA Today.
In the 19th century, tortoise populations were decimated by whalers and buccaneers. However, the Fernandina giant tortoise was thought to have gone extinct from volcanic eruptions on the island. Currently, on the Galápagos Islands, the giant tortoise population is only 10 to 15 percent of its historical numbers that once reached between 200,000 to 300,000 individuals, according to a Galápagos Conservancy statement.
Soon after the discovery, the tortoise—dubbed “Fernanda”— was taken to the Galápagos National Park’s Giant Tortoise Breeding Center on Santa Cruz Island, where the researchers could keep an eye on her and supply her with food. If Fernanda were left on her native island, trying to find her again on the volcanic terrain of Fernandina would have been difficult and time-consuming for the researchers, per National Geographic.