The giant Fernandina tortoise (Chelonoidis phantasticus) was described in 1906 from a single specimen caught on Fernandina Island in the Galapagos Islands. Since then, no new turtles have been found, and the species was considered extinct for more than a century, until an adult female giant tortoise was found on Fernandina in 2019, writes naked.
The reptile was transported to a breeding center on Santa Cruz Island, where a blood sample was taken from the turtle for DNA analysis to determine the exact species. Comparing the DNA of a modern tortoise with DNA from other Galapagos tortoises and DNA extracted from the shell of an individual taken more than a century ago, scientists concluded that Fernanda (the animal was named after the island where it was found) really belongs to the species Chelonoidis phantasticus.
Scientists believe that other representatives of this species can also live on Fernandina – judging by the droppings and bitten plants, in addition to Fernanda, there is hope to see at least two or three more turtles. To find these animals, scientific expeditions will go to the Galapagos already in September: if a male can be found for Fernanda, he will also be transported to Santa Cruz so that the turtles can continue their almost extinct genus.
If the breeding program is successful, the giant Fernanda tortoises will be returned to their native island, where they can become part of the local population and finally save their species from extinction. However, if a partner for Fernanda is never found (for example, the remaining turtles turn out to be females or the male dies for some reason), then she has every chance to share the fate of Lonely George, a purebred representative of the Abingdon elephant turtles (Chelonoidis abingdonii), who died over 100 years old, without leaving any offspring.
While Fernanda gorges herself in the breeding center alone: although she is about 50 years old, she is surprisingly small for her species, which may be due to the harsh conditions of her home island and scarce food resources. It remains to be hoped that a partner for the turtle will still be found, after which, having gained strength, it will give life to a new generation of representatives of its “extinct” species.