'Extinct' giant tortoise found in Galapagos

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Chelonoidis phantasticus, or the fernandina giant tortoise, was believed to be extinct - GETTY IMAGES
Chelonoidis phantasticus, or the fernandina giant tortoise, was believed to be extinct - GETTY IMAGES

A giant tortoise found on the Galapagos Islands is from a species last seen more than a century ago, scientists have confirmed.

An elderly female tortoise discovered during a 2019 expedition has been identified as a chelonoidis phantasticus, also known as fernandina giant tortoise.

Until now the only individual was collected in 1906 by researchers from the California Academy of Sciences, which was carrying out a survey of the island's flora and fauna.

They brought a sample back to the university, allowing Yale University scientists to make a comparison with the female 113 years later.

The female is currently at a breeding centre in Santa Cruz Island, but scientists have found prints and droppings on Fernandina Island and think there are more living in the wild, though there have been no other confirmed sightings.

A member of Galapagos Conservancy transports the turtle to a national park on Santa Cruz Island - GETTY IMAGES
A member of Galapagos Conservancy transports the turtle to a national park on Santa Cruz Island - GETTY IMAGES

Fernandina Island, the third-largest in the Galapagos archipelago, is the site of an active volcano that erupts frequently, leading to fears for the tortoise's survival.

Ecuador's environment minister celebrated the discovery, writing in a tweet: "It was believed extinct more than 100 years ago! Hope is alive."

Danny Rueda, director of the Galapagos National Park, said that a future expedition would look for more individuals. "This discovery undoubtedly renews our hope for the recovery of this species," he said.

The Galapagos Islands, which are about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, have a high number of species not found anywhere else in the world.

Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution after visiting the archipelago on board HMS Beagle in 1835.

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