The Galapagos recover an extinct turtle variety

When Jurassic Park premiered in 1993, the plot was just a fictional storyline coming from Steven Spielberg’s imagination. Today, that script doesn’t seem so fictitious anymore, especially when you look at the events happening in the Galapagos Islands that are located 600 miles from Ecuador.

In September 2017, the Enchanted Isles made headlines when, through their reproduction–in-captivity program, the islands managed to recover a tortoise species that was thought to have gone extinct more than 150 years ago. The Chelonoidis niger had previously only been known from subfossil remains.

These species of tortoise, native to Floreana Island, can endure months without food and days without water. This made them the ideal source of food for sailors who often embarked on month-long trips at sea. Using them as their food supply eventually led to their extinction.

Evidence from Galapagos National Park studies shows that sailors left the tortoises in different islands in order to lighten the load from the ships. The tortoises continued to reproduce and mix with other species while on these other islands. For more than a century and half, there was no new information on the Chelonoidis niger which is why this study sparks hope in reverting the damage that humankind has done to nature.

What work has been done to recover the species?

The recovery process lasted over a decade, in which park rangers and scientists investigated and explored the entire area of the Galapagos – consisting of 13 large volcanic islands, 6 smaller islands and 107 islets and rocks. The experts focused on Wolf Volcano, where they thought they could find genes from the extinct species. They collected samples and transferred 32 species from Wolf to the Fausto Llerena breeding center on Santa Cruz Island. Of those tortoises, 19 had Chelonoidis Niger lineage.

The process to get these results was similar to a scene from Spielberg’s famous film: Researchers and scientists used genetic identification methods to analyze and determine the lineage of each species sample. Additionally, they used software designed to make genetic simulations of the reptiles to identify how pure each one is. All these methods led to news breaking results that shook the scientific community.

This investigation is a leap forward for humanity because of the implications it has for conservation efforts. The results were published on September 13th Scientific Reports- Nature from Yale University along with the university’s social media accounts.

Recovering a species that was once thought to be extinct surpasses the fiction that was once imagined in Jurassic Park. This small step opens the door to a process that could eventually revert the damages in nature that were caused by humankind.

Lonely George

Lonely George, an emblematic tortoise from the Galapagos, died as the last member of the Chelonoidis abingdonii species in 2013. Originally an inhabitant of Pinta Island, George was taken to the Charles Darwin Research Station in 1972 to breed with female tortoises from a close species; however, the mission was not successful, and the species became extinct after his passing.

Where was the Chelonoidis niger’s originally from?

Floreana Island, the sixth largest island in the archipelago and an area rich in flora and fauna.

The conservation of species in the Galapagos is vital and therefore a priority for Metropolitan Touring’s approach to tourism. All our ships and hotels promote sustainable tourism.

Food journalist and serial Galapagos travel