‘Extinct’ giant tortoise rediscovered thanks to Abu Dhabi grant

The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund helped to fund the genetic analysis of an elderly reptile found on the Galápagos Islands

Scientific work funded by an Abu Dhabi organisation showed that a species of giant tortoise from the Galápagos Islands last seen a century ago and feared to have become extinct is very much alive.

The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund provided a grant to support genetic analysis of a giant tortoise found on the archipelago’s remote and mostly barren Fernandina Island about two years ago.

That showed that the female reptile was a Fernandina giant tortoise, a species last reported in 1906.

The fund provided two grants, totalling $30,000 (Dh110,196), towards the work at Yale University on the tortoise, named Fern, who was found during a mission by the Galápagos National Park Directorate and Galápagos Conservancy in February 2019.

Along with two other organisations, Re:wild and Turtle Conservancy, the study compared Fern’s DNA with archive samples from a long-dead Fernandina.

In finding that it matched, researchers eliminated the possibility that the elderly female was a member of another giant tortoise species carried from a different island.

Sailors moved the tortoises between islands to create food sources.

“Giant tortoises have always been a source of wonder and awe and now, through Fern, they are again taking up their mantle as a symbol of hope for our planet’s lost and endangered species, and the protection and restoration of biodiversity,” said Don Church, Re:wild’s president.

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