Diego the giant tortoise was part of San Diego Zoo's breeding program, where he singlehandedly saved his species from extinction.
The Galápagos giant tortoise is the largest living species of tortoise. One of these bad boys can weigh over 400 kilograms, which is about 920 pounds. Unfortunately, they were historically exploited, which left the beautiful species on the brink of extinction. Thankfully, human intervention has helped the species survive. But even our best efforts would not have been possible without Deigo, a Galápagos giant tortoise that once lived on the Galapagos island of Espanol. Between 1928 and 1933, he was brought to the United States along with other tortoises of his kind. He then spent several decades in a captive breeding program, where he successfully helped repopulate his species. Now, at the youthful age of 130 years old, Diego has finally retired, ABC News reports.
A giant tortoise whose legendary libido has been credited with saving his species from extinction is to return to the wild on the Galápagos Islands: Diego, the 100-year-old tortoise has fathered hundreds of progeny, around 800 by some estimates → https://t.co/tNbEzQxcMb pic.twitter.com/O8HCMzkaOQ— The Science Plug (@TheSciencePlug) January 12, 2020
Diego is part of the Chelonoidis hoodensis species native to the Galapagos island of Espanola. After being moved to the United States, he was admitted into the Charles Darwin Research Station. This was mainly for protection as the species was officially declared critically endangered in the 1960s. The giant tortoise then spent three decades in the San Diego Zoo, joining their breeding program, before being transferred back to Ecuador in 1977. There, he rejoined his fellow tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Station. As you can tell, Diego has lived quite the life, traveling across the world and, well, having lots and lots of sex.
It finally happened. I lost it on air reading a script tonight that referred to a tortoise named Diego as a “playboy that could put the late Hugh Hefner to shame.” He repopulated his species. It serves me right for not reading over the kicker before I read it on air.— Courtney Spinelli (@CourtSpinelliTV) January 13, 2020
He is finally able to retire after multiple years of dutiful service because Ecuador has decided to terminate its 40-year captive breeding program on Espanola Island. The South American country has reported recovery of habitat conditions and an increase in the tortoise population. Due to the program, the number of tortoises went up from 15 to 20,000 tortoises. Many of these tortoises are thought to be direct descendants of none other than Diego himself. As much as 40 percent of the current Galápagos giant tortoise population is believed to be Diego's descendants. Now that dutiful Diego has fulfilled his responsibilities, he will be able to retire and rest easy.
In addition to Diego's retirement, as the program comes to a close, 15 of the adults (comprising 12 females and two males) that were originally found on the island will also be returned to Espanola Island. This will take place in March after a quarantine period in order to "eliminate risks of seed dispersal from plants that are not typical of the island." All this is not to say that species is safe; the Galápagos giant tortoise is still listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List. However, the progress made by the program will help the species sustain itself. Meanwhile, the San Diego Zoo management program is about to take on the ecological restoration of the island. The restoration will include the eradication of introduced species as well as the regeneration of cacti. Nonetheless, the island's current ecosystems are adequate enough to support the growing population of giant tortoises.