Meet Diego, The Tortoise Who Saved His Species From Extinction

This is a great story of an animal who saved his species from becoming extinct.

Diego is a male tortoise who saved his speciesChelonoidis hoodensis‘ from extinction; he is native to Española Island, which was part of Charles Darwin’s evolution studies, in Galápagos archipelago. He is now retiring and going home, i.e., Española Island, in March 2020. The Galápagos Islands are part of Ecuador and are located in the Pacific Ocean. 

Diego is a male tortoise who saved his species ‘Chelonoidis hoodensis’ from extinction; he is native to Española Island.

Diego is more than 100 years old, and his contribution to the breeding program on Ecuador’s Santa Cruz Island was particularly important. He has helped to bring back his species from the brink of extinction, by mating with several female tortoises.

He is a very sexually active male. Diego is baby daddy to an estimated 800 offsprings; the father of nearly 40% of the offsprings released into the wild on Española Island. He has repopulated the native Española Island and almost single-handedly saved his species from extinction.

Diego got his name from California’s San Diego Zoo, where he was taken from the Galápagos in the first half of the 20th century, by a scientific expedition. In the 1960s, the Galápagos tortoises of Española Island were declared critically endangered by IUCN.

Introduction of goats, by humans, to the Española island in the late 1800s destroyed much of the tortoises’ natural habitat. At that time, Diego’s species had only two males and 12 females on Española Island, and there was no chance to save this species from extinction because species members were too spread out to reproduce.

The remaining 2 males and 12 females of the wild population were brought to the Charles Darwin Research Station for protection. A search also took place, looking for this tortoise species from Española Island, in zoos, which led to Diego. He was returned to the Española Island of Galápagos Islands in 1977, from San Diego, to work in a ‘captive breeding program’, to save his species.

Diego spent 30 years at the San Diego Zoo’s breeding program before he returned back to Ecuador in 1977. As one of only three remaining males of this species, Diego joined his fellow Española tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Station and started his tough, challenging and very important job of reproducer, seriously.

Today, about 2,000 tortoises of his species have been released into the wild. The Baby tortoises or offsprings are growing successfully. But this species is still listed as critically endangered on the IUCN’s Red List

It was a great and successful effort which saved a species from extinction. Big thanks to Ecuador government, Ecuador’s Environmental Ministry, Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), Galápagos Conservancy, the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI) and WashingtonTapia, Director of the GTRI.

Diego’s story is important, in the sense that he saved his species from extinction; this is in contrasts to the sad story of more than 100-year-old Lonesome George, a Galápagos giant tortoise, who had refused to breed in captivity. Any hope to save his species, Chelonoidis abingdoni, ended when Lonesome George passed away in 2012.

Note: This great conservation story has been written only to cause awareness about depleting biodiversity and to introduce the efforts by our great scientists and organisations to conserve the Earth’s biodiversity. No profit is related to this story. 

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