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Diego the Galapagos giant tortoise has been the driving force behind the rise in numbers of his species, which now stands at 2,000 in the wild. Pic: Parque Galapagos

Ladies man fathers 800 children and saves his species

18 June 20


Diego, a Galapagos giant tortoise, has had so much success with the ladies over the last 50 years, he has saved his species.

Over the last five decades his sexual endeavours have resulted in the birth of around 800 children — roughly 40 per cent of the species' total population.

But now Diego, along with other Galapagos giant tortoises part of a breeding program, have returned to Espanola Island where he was taken when the species was on the brink of extinction.

The giant tortoises are known for their long, leathery necks and lifespans of over 100 years.

Virtually synonymous with the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, they were one of the species that helped Charles Darwin form his theory of evolution in the 19th century.

The oldest known Galapagos tortoise, Harriet, died in 2006 at Queensland's Australia Zoo at the age of 176 and may have been taken from the Galapagos Islands to Britain by Darwin himself.

Diego moved into a breeding program on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos about 50 years ago. Before that, he spent around 30 years in a California zoo. 

The tortoises were bred in captivity to repopulate the islands after their numbers in the wild went down to just 15 individuals, according to Danny Rueda, director of the park on Santa Cruz.

There are now more than 2,000 of them on Espanola Island, he said.

It has been a conservation success story.

"We can shut down the captive breeding program of this species, because their natural behaviour is effective," Mr Rueda said.

For his final journey home, Diego and his companions were taken by boat to Espanola Island.

From there, rangers used backpacks to take the tortoises, which can weigh up to 180 kilograms, to an area where the cactus they eat grows in abundance, to help them readapt to the wild.

They will be monitored with GPS trackers.

SOURCE: ABC / REUTERS

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