Scientists shell-shocked after finding new tortoise species on Galapagos Islands

22 Oct 2015

A new species of giant tortoise has been discovered on the biological wonder that is the Galapagos Islands.

The new tortoise species was discovered by an international team of scientists, as well Ecuadorian researchers, who for years had believed that the two large giant tortoise populations on the island of Santa Cruz were one and the same.

However, it was only after undergoing detailed genetic tests that the giant tortoises living on the eastern side of the island were discovered to be entirely different to their fellow tortoises.

According to AFP, the research into the species began as far back as 2002 after two of the researchers raised the issue that “due to the formation of the shell, these tortoises should belong to a different species.”

Three years later, genetic samples taken from the creatures offered preliminary evidence of the potential for the difference in the species, going much deeper than it just having a different shell.

New tortoise species

Ranger Fausto Llerena Sánchez poses with a tortoise representing the species that was named in his honour. Image via Washington Tapia

But now, 10 years later, the new species has been confirmed.

The head of the Galapagos National Park, Alejandra Ordonez, has said research into the new species is ongoing so as “to determine their exact distribution on the island, their nesting areas, and potential threats”.

Speaking to AFP, one of the Ecuadorian scientists on the project, Washington Tapia, said that they believe there could be as many as 300 of this species in existence.

This new species of tortoise has been named Chelonidis donfausti in honour of one of the island’s animal caretakers, Fausto Llerena.

Llerena’s job was to take care of the tortoise Lonesome George, a 100-year-old tortoise that died back in 2012 that was the last survivor of a subspecies decimated by pirates more than a century ago.

Giant tortoise image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic