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Nature

Diego The Giant Tortoise Helps Save His Species By Fathering 800 Offspring

author

Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockSep 14 2016, 17:46 UTC

Diego, pictured, is a giant Galapagos tortoise at the Charles Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz Island. jdegenhardt/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Diego may be over 100 years old, but the libido of this centenarian Casanova has helped to save a population of giant Galapagos tortoises.

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Diego has fathered an estimated 800 offspring in his lifetime. His insatiable sexual appetite has played a major role in repopulating the Chelonoidis hoodensis subspecies on the island of Española, their native home among the Galapagos Archipelago.

“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 AFP news agency. While population numbers are not back to their former health, it's thought there are now 2,000 Chelonoidis hoodensis on the island of Española.

"We did a genetic study and we discovered that he was the father of nearly 40 percent of the offspring released into the wild on Española," he added.

Diego is around 90 centimeters (35 inches) long and weighs about 80 kilograms (175 pounds). He spent a fair portion of his 100 years in San Diego zoo, hence his name, but was relocated to the islands in 1976 to help boost the population of tortoises on Española. By all accounts, that was a good move.

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The Galapagos Islands have become virtually synonymous with Charles Darwin and his seminal work from 1859, “On The Origin of Species”. However, since the 19th century and this era of exploration, the island is thought to have lost between 100,000 to 200,000 tortoises and four separate subspecies through overexploitation and tourism. It is estimated a total of 20,000 wild tortoises, made up of between 12 to 14 different subspecies and separate populations, live on the islands today.

The most famous of the giant Galapagos Island tortoises was "Lonesome George," the Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii). In his latter years, he was the last remaining individual from this subspecies until he died in 2012. Who knows, perhaps these sexploits have saved the Chelonoidis hoodensis from a similar fate.

Keep up the good work, Diego.


Nature
  • endangered,

  • sex,

  • conservation,

  • breeding,

  • darwin,

  • species,

  • tortoise,

  • turtle,

  • Lonesome George,

  • subspecies,

  • Galapagos island,

  • breeding programme,

  • Española Island,

  • San Diego Zoo

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