Big News For Giant Tortoises

It’s nice to be able to draw attention to some good news, especially when it’s the finding of a species which it was thought that we’d predated to extinction. My attention was drawn to this news by a BBC article that had picked up a letter in the current issue of Current Biology (1,2).
A large international team of Garrick et al had been rummaging around Volcán Wolf on Isabela Island of the Galapagos. This is the Galapagos’s highest peak on the northern end if Isabela. The team have been searching out the giant tortoises and checking the parenthood. It seems that they have found a significantly large number of hybrids. They were checking out Chelonoidis becki when they found that some Chelonoidis elephantopus had been courting.
Now C. elephantopus was born and bred on Floreana Island, well off to the south-east of Isabela and were eaten up by pirates and whalers in the nineteenth century. The problem is that they don’t have to eat a lot and can last for about 3 months without getting too grumpy, so they were hoisted aboard as pre-packed fresh meat with a use by date of at least three months from shipping.
C. elephantopus has a distinct shell. It is called a ‘saddle back’ and is distinctly different from the usual run of giant tortoises with their high domed shells. The suggestion is that some were shipped at Floreana and somehow escaped or were set free when some ships sailed on to Isabela. Maybe the crews preferred iguanas or got bigger C beckis.
The best news is that some of the hybrids were only 15 tears old and came from pure-bred parents. DNA indicated that both male and female C. elephantopus were lurking about in the undergrowth. Being very long lived, they presumably have very long memories, so after their last experience with sailors, it’s not surprising that they’re keep their heads down. 

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