Endangered tortoises released into the wild after successful breeding program

Diego fathered an estimated 800 offspring on Santa Cruz Island, Galápagos, Ecuador. He has been retired and returned to his original habitat on Española Island Photograph: AP

The Galapagos National Park released around 15 giant tortoises back into the wild after a successful breeding program. This also brought an end to its very successful captivity breeding initiative that has saved the species from the brink of extinction.

Five decades back, there were only two male and 12 female species of the giant tortoise on Espanola Island in Ecuador. However, thanks to the captivity breeding program, more than 2,000 tortoises have been bred since the 1960s.

The tortoises were quarantined and marked before their release to the remote and uninhabited Espanola Island. The quarantine was to ensure that they did not carry any seeds from plants that are not native to the island.

Among the 15 tortoises released was a 100-year old tortoise Diego, whose reproductive efforts almost single handedly saved his species – Chelonoidis hoodensis – that were on the brink of extinction. He did so by breeding more than 800 of progeny. This is about 40 per cent of 2,000-strong tortoise population.

The prolific Diego weighs around 175 pounds and is around one and a half metre tall. He was brought in from the San Diego Zoo in California to join the captivity breeding program in the 60s.

Confirming the news of the release, minister Paulo Proano said on Twitter, “We are closing an important chapter” in the management of the park. He added that many tortoises including the centenarian Diego “are going back home after decades of reproducing in captivity and saving their species from extinction”.

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