How Scientists Hope to Resurrect an Extinct Galápagos Tortoise Species

December 16,2015 at 02:47 am

When Lonesome George drew his last breath on June 24, 2012, it signaled the end of a species. The Pinta Island tortoise was officially extinct, despite efforts to revive the creatures.

But scientists are making one final effort to bring the species of Galápagos Island tortoise back from the dead, and the team of experts from Yale University might have found the DNA they need to save the turtles from being lost forever.

Tortoise populations have steadily declined over the last 500 years, according to the New York Times. In the 1500s, there were more than 250,000 alive, but that number dropped to about 3,000 in the 1970s. They were used by sailors as food or to provide stability for ships for more than 200 years, the report added.

It`s believed that whalers threw several tortoises overboard near Wolf Island more than 150 years ago, Yale News said. From there, many different closely related species populated several of the Galápagos Islands, including the now-extinct Pinta Island and Floreana Island tortoises.

So the team of Yale scientists tracked down 17 tortoises that have high levels of Pinta and Floreana DNA in hopes of finding a creature that is a direct relative of Lonesome George. After all, these tortoises can live to be 150 years old, and that`s a long time to keep track of a family tree.

The next part of the team`s plan will be to bring those Pinta and Floreana relatives to Santa Cruz Island and hope two of them are able to mate, which would start the long process of repopulating the areas with tortoises.

Scientists and conservationists alike are filled with hope that this project will be successful, and two extinct tortoise species will be brought back to life.

"It will take time to restore Floreana and Pinta tortoises – maybe 200 to 300 years," Washington "Wacho" Tapia, director of the giant tortoise restoration initiative at the nonprofit Galápagos Conservancy, told National Geographic. "But I am absolutely convinced that there are enough tortoises in captivity and in the wild to do this."