‘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

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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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