In spite of all odds, scientists hope to revive the Galapagos tortoise species originating from three of the islands where their kind has gone extinct. With a bit of help from their closest relatives, it could be the case where the famous animals might make a comeback.
There are three of eight islands around in the Galápagos where the tortoises now no longer exist: Pinta Island, Floreana Island, and Santa Fe Island. These patches of land have remained without their iconic animals, believed to have gone extinct due to failed attempts at assuring their survival.
Their endurance led to their extinction
They were once a thriving species, but that was in the 1500s. In fact, until the 16th century, they were around 250,000 of the Galápagos tortoises around. However, their population took a hard hit, due to their innate ability at remaining without food or water for over a year. They became the perfect takeaway meals for those faring across the seas.
Their species became an important source of food, and their numbers, thus, saw a significant drop. By the 1970s, their population rounded up at just 3,000 specimens. What followed was not a significant improvement.
Lonesome George was believed to be the last surviving Galápagos tortoise from the Pinta Island, until his demise in 2012. Species from the Floreana Island have been considered to be gone for even longer than that. The last encounter was recorded by none other than Charles Darwin, back in 1835. That means that they have been considered extinct for the past 180 years.
And yet, not all hope is lost.
2/3 extinct species could be brought back
Scientists from Yale University believe they can harvest DNA from their closest relatives in order to bring back two of the three extinct Galápagos species. They samples around 1,600 specimens from Isabela Island. Out of the total, 89 of them showed DNA traces of the Floreana Island tortoise, and another 17 had high levels of DNA from the Pinta Island species.
Some of them were even believed to be descendants of the famous Lonesome George. It’s entirely possible considering their kind live up to around 150 years old. With a bit of genetic ingenuity, researchers believe that they could bring the extinct tortoises back to life. In fact, in the next 10 years, their hope is that they could breed species to have 95% of the Pinta or the Florean.
According to geneticist and researcher, Adalgisa Caccone, they’re optimistic that the Galápagos tortoises have “high conservation value”. They would not only be beneficial for the sake of their species, for the environment as well. Experts believe that Galápagos tortoises have a significant role in their ecosystem.
Due to their low center of gravity, they drag across the ground, spreading seeds and nutrients, which keeps the soil healthy. Their simple movement sustains the environment, and a thriving population of their species could be heavily beneficial.
Image source: usydphotosoc.org