Giant tortoise species thought to have been extinct for 100 years ‘found alive’

A giant tortoise species thought to have been extinct for 100 years has been found alive in the Galapagos Islands, an expert has claimed.

An expedition to the island of Fernandina is reported to have found a female Fernandina Giant Tortoise "alive and well", although the International Union for Conservation of Nature says the report needs verification.

The animal is said to have a pink head, along with a large body and smooth shell, but no other details have been disclosed.

The sighting came during an expedition to the island found in the western Ecuadorian region of the archipelago funded by Animal Planet for an upcoming documentary series titled Extinct or Alive.

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Expedition leader Forrest Galante crossed a three mile stretch of hardened lava flow and found the animal buried deep under a pile of brush.

Many species of giant tortoises were over-hunted for their meat by European and other colonists who travelled to the Galapagos archipelago.

"As a biologist and someone who has dedicated my life to the pursuit of animals believed extinct, this is by far my greatest scientific accomplishment and proudest moment," said Mr Galante.

"Much like Lonesome George was an icon of extinction, I believe she can become an icon of wildlife hope. She's the rarest tortoise, if not animal, in the entire world and one of the largest discoveries in the Galapagos in the last century."

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The tortoise was found by members of the Galapagos National Park and the US NGO Galapagos Conservancy.

Susanna Dinnage, global president of Animal Planet, added: "We are moved and excited about this historic news.

"As the rate of animal extinction is widely debated, it gives us great hope that some species are surviving against the odds and that at Animal Planet we can do our bit to celebrate and support them."

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The announcement that the adult female had been discovered was reportedly tweeted by Ecuador's environment minister Marcelo Mata, although his account appears to have since been suspended.

A tweet from Mr Mata is said to have included an image of the reptile, with the only other known specimen having been collected in 1906.

A spokesman for Galapagos Conservancy said: "While thought to be extinct due to volcanic eruptions in past centuries, there have been anecdotal observations indicating that there may indeed still be a very few left on the island."

Anecdotal evidence and unconfirmed sightings have been reported ever since but it was formally listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list as 'critically endangered (possibly extinct)'.

In a statement, IUCN said: "These sightings and signs, though needing verification through more extensive surveys, indicate the possibility that the species may remain extant in exceedingly small numbers."

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