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Scientists confirm discovery of giant tortoise believed extinct since 1906

The chelonoidis phantasticus giant tortoise species was thought to have gone extinct in the Galapagos Islands 115 years ago. Photo courtesy Galapagos National Park/Facebook
The chelonoidis phantasticus giant tortoise species was thought to have gone extinct in the Galapagos Islands 115 years ago. Photo courtesy Galapagos National Park/Facebook

May 27 (UPI) -- A giant tortoise believed to have gone extinct more than 100 years ago has been found in the Galapagos Islands, and researchers are now preparing an expedition to see if more can be found.

Scientists from the California Academy of Sciences said the lone female turtle, identified with the chelonoidis phantasticus species, was found in 2019 on Fernandina Island during a joint expedition of the Galapagos National Park and the Galapagos Conservancy.

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Yale University researcher Gisella Caccone and a team of geneticists performed an analysis on the tortoise and compared it with the last known specimen taken in 1906 for confirmation, according to the Galapagos National Park Facebook page.

"Rediscovery of this lost species may have happened just in time to save it," tortoise expert James Gibbs, vice president of science and conservation with the Galapagos Conservancy, said in a statement. "Now we urgently need to complete the search to find other turtles."

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The world's giant tortoise population has dwindled to about 60,000 over the past several decades, largely due to exploitation by whalers and pirates. There have been indications over the years that the tortoise has survived, but no official confirmation until this week.

Researchers said populations of the chelonoidis phantasticus species -- also known as the Fernandina Island Galapagos tortoise and Narborough Island giant tortoise -- may have also been devastated by volcanic eruptions in the region over the past century.

Confirmation of the giant tortoise came in the same week that scientists announced the first live births of Tasmanian devils on the Australian mainland in 3,000 years. Scientists say that seven Tasmanian devil joeys were born at Barrington Wildlife Sanctuary.

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The species had died out in Australia due to predators and disease.

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