Diego - Giant Tortoise
CHARLES DARWIN RESEARCH STATION, Galápagos — Of all the giant tortoises on these islands, where the theory of evolution was born, only a few have received names that stuck.
There was Popeye, adopted by sailors at an Ecuadorean naval base. There was Lonesome George, last of his line, who spent years shunning the females with whom he shared a pen.
And there is Diego, an ancient male who is quite the opposite of George.
Diego has fathered hundreds of progeny — 350 by conservative counts, some 800 by more imaginative estimates. Whatever the figure, it is welcome news for his species, Chelonoidis hoodensis, which was stumbling toward extinction in the 1970s. Barely more than a dozen of his kin were left then, most of them female.
Then came Diego, returned to the Galápagos in 1977 from the San Diego Zoo.
“He’ll keep reproducing until death,” said Freddy Villalva, who watches over Diego and many of his descendants at a breeding center at this research facility, situated on a rocky volcanic shoreline. The tortoises typically live more than 100 years.
The tales of Diego and George demonstrate just how much the Galápagos — a province of Ecuador — have served as the world’s laboratory of evolution. So often here, the fate of an entire species, evolved over millions of years, can hinge on whether just one or two individual animals survive from one day to the next.