Story at a glance

  • Researchers found the giant tortoise named “Fern” during a joint 2019 expedition to the island.
  • Scientists were confident at the time that Fern was indeed related to the Fernandina giant tortoise species.
  • Genetic analysis confirmed she's related to the species.

A female giant tortoise recently found on the Galápagos island of Fernandina has been confirmed to be a member of a species researchers thought had died out more than 100 years ago. 

Researchers from the Galápagos National Park Directorate and Galápagos Conservancy found the giant tortoise named “Fern” during a joint 2019 expedition to the island. 


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Scientists were confident at the time that Fern was indeed related to the Fernandina giant tortoise species, which was believed to be extinct since 1906, but needed to verify their findings. 

A blood sample taken from Fern was sent out to geneticists at Yale University to determine if she was related to the only other Fernandina giant tortoise ever found on the island.

Genetic analysis confirmed she is indeed related to the Chelonoidis phantasticus tortoise species native to the island. 

“One of the greatest mysteries in Galápagos has been the Fernandina Island Giant Tortoise,” James Gibbs, vice president of science and conservation for the Galápagos Conservancy, said in a news release

“Rediscovering this lost species may have occurred just in the nick of time to save it. We now urgently need to complete the search of the island to find other tortoises,” Gibbs said. 

Only one other Fernandina giant tortoise has ever been discovered by researchers. A male was found during a California Academy of Sciences expedition in 1906. 

While other populations of giant tortoises on the islands have been threatened by whalers over the years, the Fernandina giant tortoise was decimated by volcanic eruptions that have occurred on the island.

Researchers say they’ve found signs there may be at least two other specimens on the island and are planning to carry out more expeditions to find the animals. 

If they are able to locate a male, they plan on breeding the species in captivity and will eventually return them to the wild. 


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Published on May 26, 2021