The Fernandina Tortoise, which was believed to have gone extinct some 113 years ago, has been found on a remote part of the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador.
The tortoise was found earlier in February during an expedition led by US cable channel Animal Planet. It was living in a remote area of the island only accessible by walking across solidified lava flow.
“Having positively identified tortoise scat in the field, the team led by Galante successfully located an active bedding site before finding the animal nearby,” Animal Planet said in a statement. “The tortoise was found sheltering from the equatorial sun, buried deep under a pile of brush.”
Meet “Forgotten Fern,” the historic rediscovery of the Fernandina Giant tortoise of the Galápagos Islands! We’re teaming up with @Global_Wildlife to raise money for this species’ immediate conservation, and pledge to match up to $100k! https://t.co/llt7uSXp0I pic.twitter.com/UlLC2bWjRw
— Turtle Conservancy (@turtletweets) February 20, 2019
Animal Planet team made the amazing discovery
The discovery was made by a team led by Animal Planet host and biologist Forrest Galante, who had always been hopeful that there were some surviving members of the species. The group searched for two days and were reportedly ecstatic to make the discovery.
After Galante and colleagues sent photos and video of the animal to the Turtle Conservancy, biologists were able to confirm the tortoise was a Chelonoidis phantasticus, or Fernandina Tortoise.
“The photos from the team clearly show a moderately saddle-backed, old female about half to two-thirds the size of the known male. Pending genetic confirmation, this is almost undoubtedly the lost Fernandina Giant Tortoise,” said Anders Rhodin, a Surgeon and Researcher at the Turtle Conservancy.
The last known sighting of the tortoise was the discovery of a deceased male back in 1906.
A Fernandina tortoise, presumed to be extinct since 1906, has been FOUND! She was discovered in an expedition for #ExtinctorAlive by @ForrestGalante. This tortoise was hiding in the brush of a volcano in the Galapagos and was identified by the look of her shell and face. pic.twitter.com/R4a2YOdI8j
— Animal Planet (@AnimalPlanet) February 20, 2019
Researchers hope the discovery of the tortoise could lead to a breeding program
Dubbed ‘Forgotten Fern’, the tortoise is underweight but is generally in good health, especially considering it had been living close to a volcano and in an area with little vegetation.
Fern has now been transported to a breeding centre on Isla Santa Cruz. The centre has previously bred thousands of Galapagos tortoises and scientists there have some hope of locating a male on the island to start a breeding program.
Galante said discovering Fern was the proudest moment of his career and that he hoped it could inspire others.
“Much like Lonesome George was an icon of extinction, I believe she can become an icon of wildlife hope,” he said. “She’s the rarest tortoise, if not animal, in the entire world and one of the largest discoveries in the Galapagos in the last century.”