Diego the Tortoise: Savior of the Galapagos Giant Tortoise


Matthew Ralston

Diego the Tortoise, or as he should be known, Diego the Messiah of his species. A over 100 year old tortoise raised in captivity, he has been credited with helping save his species from extinction.

Since the 16th century, the Galapagos Giant Tortoise has been in decline. From a population of nearly 250,000 in the 16th century, the ancient species dropped to an all time low of 14 in 1965. Researchers had been spending a long time on attempting to raise their population to no avail. In 1970, a program was started to pull them all into captivity – a population of 12 females and two males – and attempt to raise their population.

In 5 years time, almost no tortoises were raised, and the researchers were desperate. They then searched zoos and wildlife reserves for another male to add to the mix. In 1976 they found Diego and added him to the mix.

It took nearly 45 years, but the program managed to raise the population from 15 to 2,000, raising the species out from the endangered species list, and nearly out of the threatened category entirely.

When the researchers preformed paternity tests on the tortoises, they found that out of the over 2,000 tortoises, more than 40 percent of them were direct descendents of Diego, who researchers have called crucial in the breeding programs success.

Recently, Diego has been retired back to his home of Espanola island after 80 years of hard work saving his species.

Welcome home Diego, and rest well, you have earned it.