The giant Galapagos tortoise Diego spent decades of his life in captivity. First, in a zoo in the United States, then he was sent to breed in captivity in Ecuador. Monday, he was finally set free, Ecuador’s environment minister said.
The 100-year-old Diego was shipped out from the Galapagos National Park’s breeding program on Santa Cruz to remote and uninhabited Espanola, one of the Galapagos islands, where Diego originally came from.
“We are closing an important chapter in the management of the park,” said minister Paulo Proano on Twitter, adding that 15 tortoises including Diego, “are going back home after decades of breeding in captivity and saving their species from extinction.”
Before being taken back by boat to Espanola, Diego and the other tortoises had to undergo a quarantine period to avoid them carrying seeds from plants that are not native to the island.
Diego weighs about 80 kilograms (175 pounds), is nearly 90 centimeters (35 inches) long and 1.5 meters (five feet) tall, if he really stretches his legs and neck.
His contribution to the program on Santa Cruz Island was particularly noteworthy, with park rangers believing him responsible for being the patriarch of at least 40 percent of the 2,000-tortoise population.
Around 50 years ago, only two males and 12 females of Diego’s species were alive on Espanola, and they were too spread out to reproduce. Diego was brought in from California’s San Diego Zoo to join the breeding program set up in the mid-1960s to save his species, Chelonoidis hoodensis.
The National Park believes he was taken from the Galapagos in the first half of the 20th century by a scientific expedition.
Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean, were made famous by 19th Century English naturalist Charles Darwin’s studies of their breathtaking biodiversity.
Cerramos un capítulo importante en la gestión del @parquegalapagos, 15 tortugas de #Española, incluyendo a #Diego, regresan a casa tras décadas de reproducirse en cautiverio y salvar a su especie de la extinción. Su isla las recibe con los brazos abiertos. (Noticia en desarrollo) pic.twitter.com/M4a4maQm9E— Paulo Proaño Andrade (@PauloProanoA) June 15, 2020