A rare species of ‘giant’ tortoise, long believed to have gone extinct, has been found alive after over a century on the Galápagos Islands— a volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. The scientists are calling it a ‘big deal’.
The animal, which belongs to the rare Chelonoidis phantasticus species, has been named Fernanda after her Fernandina Island home, a largely unexplored active volcano in the western Galápagos Archipelago.
She is the first of her species identified in more than 100 years. A male species was found in 1906 by the explorer Rollo Beck during an expedition.
Fernanda was discovered in 2019, roaming inside a vegetation clump among the solidified lava of the islet, reports The Guardian. The researchers were able to confirm that the rare phantasticus species wasn’t extinct after they took a DNA sample to match it with the 1906 tortoise.
The researchers from Princeton University sequenced the genome of both the 1906 and the 2019 tortoise, matching them as members of the same species of giant tortoise, which was genetically different from the other 13 species of tortoise found in the Galápagos.
All giant Galápagos tortoises are all listed on the IUCN Red List from vulnerable to critically endangered, with one species already extinct.
“Everything that we knew about this species said it was extinct,” said Stephen Gaughran told The Guardian.
Gaughran is an ecology and evolutionary biology researcher at Princeton University and one of the lead authors of the study that announced the finding. His study was published on Thursday in the journal Communications Biology.
“So, it’s a big deal for a species that we thought was extinct for a hundred years to suddenly appear here.”
The research further suggest that Fernanda might not have been the only giant tortoise that got to the island and that there could have been populations of the tortoise on the island at some point.
(With inputs from agencies)
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