A 100-year-old giant Galápagos tortoise has returned to his home pastures for a well-earned rest after almost single-handedly saving his species from extinction. Following several decades of breeding in captivity, Diego is thought to have fathered around 800 offspring after being shipped out to the Galápagos national park’s breeding program in Santa Cruz from San Diego Zoo. He will now return to his native homeland, the remote and uninhabited island of Española for some much-needed R&R.
“We close an important chapter in the management of [Parque Galápagos],” wrote environment minister Paulo Proano on Twitter, explaining that 15 of the Española giant tortoises were to return home after decades of breeding in captivity. "Your island welcomes you with open arms.”
And a giant Diego most certainly is, weighing in at around 80 kilograms (175 pounds), and almost 90 centimeters (35 inches) long and 1.5 meters (5 feet) tall. The virile tortoise is thought to have been captured as part of a scientific expedition in the Galápagos in the first half of the 20th century before ending up at his namesake San Diego Zoo in California. Here he was enlisted as part of a breeding program in 1977 in what would become a long and prosperous career of reviving his species, Chelonoidis hoodensis, one fertilized egg at a time. The breeding program was launched to give love a chance as it was discovered that on the island Española there were only two males and 12 females of the species alive for whom, given their sparse distribution, chance romantic encounters seemed unlikely.
After around 80 years in captivity, Diego's return to the region has a very 2020 feel to it as he and the other tortoises had to undergo a quarantine period before being let loose on the island to ensure there’s no contamination of foreign plant materials. After decades of serving his species, all we can say is thank you, Diego, for your contributions to conservation. Your passion for reproduction will go down in the annals of ecological history.
[H/T: The Guardian]