Officials of the Galápagos National Park announced the release of 39 giant tortoises on Pinta Island in the Ecuadorian Galápagos archipelago where the animals had disappeared since 1972.
According to the agency, the relocation of these endangered reptiles, known as Geochelone nigra, is part of "a long-term management plan, which will allow the restoration of the ecosystem integrity and the re-establishment of ecological processes characteristic of this island."
Pinta, also known as Abingdon Island, the northernmost island of the archipelago, is located above the Equator. This volcanic island is the home of the tortoise known as Lonesome George, an icon of the islands, which allegedly is the last of its kind, the subspecies Geochelone nigra abingdoni. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species the subspecies G. n. abingdoni is considered extinct in the wild. Lonesome George is estimated to be about 90 years old, which is not particularly old for a tortoise, but attempts to mate him with prospective females of a different sub-species (Geochelone nigra becki), deemed to be genetically closest to Lonesome George, have not succeeded.
The 39 giant tortoises being introduced to Pinta are between 30 and 70 years old and they are sterile hybrids with the purpose of "conserving the ecological and evolutionary processes of the archipelago."
Pinta Island is also home to marine iguanas, fur seals and several other birds and mammals. In the past, the island had an abundant tortoise population. Since 1979, the island underwent a process of accelerated ecosystem degradation caused by the introduction and uncontrolled reproduction of goats which destroyed the native vegetation. Goats were eradicated in 2003.
For more information and an explanatory video on the project click here.
(Note: This is the first news in English language media of the actual release of these 39 giant tortoises; 2010/05/18 - 14:30 hrs. Toronto time).