‘Extinct’ Giant Tortoise: Still Kicking After All These Years?

Presumed extinct for over 150 years, researchers say a subspecies of giant tortoise might still be roaming the Galápagos islands

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"Lonesome George," known as one of the "last" giant tortoises of his kind

Looks like Lonesome George, one of the “last” 100-year-old giant tortoises in the Galápagos, is not so lonesome after all. According to a report in Current Biology, DNA evidence of a giant tortoise subspecies called Chelonoidis elephantopus proves the species, presumed extinct for over 150 years, still lives.

Although there is yet to be a C. elephantopus sighting, DNA sequences from another Galápagos tortoise, C. becki, show they are hybrids from the “extinct” tortoise. Meaning, C. elephantopus parented several of the C. becki species.

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C. elephantopus, a native species of the Floreana island, was thought to be extinct shortly after Darwin visited the Galápagos islands in 1835. These slow-moving creatures weigh up to 900 pounds and can survive for years without food or water. According to Wired, the research team led by Ryan Garrick from Yale University say C. elephantopus was likely transported to the Galápagos island of Isabela via pirate or whaling ships.

The researchers estimate about 40 C. elephantopus are still alive. In order to save the species, researchers plan to return to the island of Isabela to start a captive breeding program using both hybrids and purebred C. elephantopus (if they can find them).

“The way they were moved around creates a rare opportunity to resuscitate a species that we thought we’d lost,” Garrick told Wired.

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