Tortoise sauve! The randy 100-year-old Galapagos tortoise has sired over 800 babies.
Only 50 years ago, there were a mere 14 hooded tortoises (Chelonoidis hoodensis, a species of Galápagos giant tortoise) left alive on Espanola, the island they are endemic to. Discovering that the animals were too spread apart to be reproducing, all 14 of them were taken to a tortoise breeding program on a neighboring island in an effort to save the species.
Meanwhile, there was another hooded tortoise at the San Diego Zoo. Known as Diego, the 100-year-old tortoise had been biding his time there since the 1930s. When it was discovered that he was a member of Chelonoidis hoodensis in 1977, we was sent back to his homeland to help the cause.
And help he did. Who knew that Diego, now known as Super Diego, would turn out to be so … prolific! Cue the Barry White songs. The lady-loving tortoise has sired over 800 babies; two out of every five hooded tortoises in existence, according to genetic testing.
“He’s a very sexually active male reproducer. He’s contributed enormously to repopulating the island,” said Washington Tapia, a tortoise preservation specialist at Galapagos National Park.
The 175-pound, five-foot long lover lives with six female tortoises. There has to be a sitcom in here somewhere.
While the other endangered species have come back from the brink of extinction in dramatic ways, none of them have done so thanks to the efforts of a single male (and his mates). And it’s a good thing, giant Galapagos tortoises haven’t had an easy time of it. Before the 18th century there were an estimated 300,000 of them living on the chain of islands off of Ecuador. They had the misfortune of being discovered by sailors who valued the tortoises' ability to survive for a year without eating, making them a valuable food source. Currently, there are between 20,000 to 25,000 living in the wild. Of the 15 known species, three have gone extinct.
But now, thanks to the sexy centenarian, there are more than 1,000 hooded tortoises on Espanola. And given the longevity of the giant tortoise and Super Diego's special gifts, the species looks safe for the time-being.