‘Extinct’ Galápagos giant tortoise trace found on neighbouring island
Hybrid tortoises found on one of the Galápagos Islands suggests that the believed ‘extinct’ giant Galápagos tortoise may still exist.
The Galápagos Islands played a significance role that inspired Darwinism. These tropical islands in the Pacific Ocean, west of Ecuador, support a variety of endemic species made famous by the revolutionary theory of Charles Darwin and have since become a national park and marine reserve.
One of its reptile species indigenous to the island of Floreana, the Chelonoidis elephantopus was believed to be extinct for 150 years. But Yale University researchers have found hybrid tortoises as young as 15 years old on the nearby island, Isabela, with a genetic profile that suggests one of their parents to be the C. elephantopus, the giant tortoise.
Previous evidence was found three years ago when another Yale expedition team found tracks of hybrids around Volcano Wolf on Isabela amongst the Chelonoidis becki population, indicating that the likelihood of several pure giant tortoises are around to father them. Dr Gisella Caccone, a senior scientist during the expedition, told the BBC: “To justify the amount of genetic diversity in the hybrids, there should be something like 38.” And this includes an equal number of both males and females specimens.
The scientists theorised that careful cross-breeding could increase the number of pure-blood C. elephantopus. But finding these large tortoises is not as easy a feat as one may think.
“The landscape on Volcano Wolf is hard, the vegetation thick with lots of bushes and nooks, and the carapaces are translucent so you need a trained eye to see the shininess of the shell,” Dr Caccone told BBC news.
The Yale research team will attempt to open talks with the Galápagos authorities in establishing whether the next step should be the organisation of further expeditions or compiling a captive breeding planning.