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LE TEMPS (Switzerland)

Worldcrunch

PUERTO BAQUERIZO MORENO – The famous giant tortoise of the Galapagos is saved! At least for now...

It was thought that the ancient Galapagos tortoise endemic to these South American islands had gone extinct with last year's death of Lonesome George, the last of the living among this type of tortoise, writes Le Temps. But another species of Galapagos tortoises, living on one of the seven islands of the archipelago, is apparently thriving.

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The Galapagos Islands, Wikipedia

Lonesome George, who died June 2012 was thought to be the last remaining member of the Galapagos tortoise species, but his cousins from the neighboring isle of Espanola seems to be doing quite well, even though their number had dropped down to 14 in the 1960s, two males and 12 females.

Galapagos tortoises can measure up to 51 inches and weigh 500 pounds. In past centuries, they were a delicacy favored by pirates and whalers.

In 1977, a male tortoise in its prime – about 100 years old; these reptiles live up to be 175 – was reintroduced into the Espanola island. He had been brought there from the San Diego Zoo, where he was living out his retirement.

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Geochelone elephantosus, the Galapagos giant tortoise, Wikipedia

The Espanola tortoises were taken from the island and transported to the main Galapagos Island, Santa Cruz, wher they were being bred in captivity in the Charles Darwin Research Center. The program was hugely successful and all together, 1700 tortoises were brought back to Espanola, which in turn started breeding in the wild.

“It’s a beautiful victory to have been able to recreate a population from such a small community,” claims Lukas Keller, biologist and Galapagos exhibition curator at Zurich’s Zoological museum. But, well they are all pretty much inbred, which makes them quite vulnerable, he says.

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