Diego is said to have fathered over 2,000 babies.

By Andrea Romano
June 16, 2020

A 100-year-old Galápagos tortoise named Diego is finally going to get some well-deserved rest and relaxation.

On Monday, Diego and 14 other tortoises returned to their native home of Española Island, located in the Galápagos Islands, after helping to save their species from extinction, according to BBC News.

Diego originally, “officially” retired in January, with expectations to return to Española in March.

Since the 1960’s, the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center, a breeding facility on Santa Cruz Island, has been using Diego and the other tortoises to help bring up population numbers for their species, The New York Times reported. Diego is thought to have fathered over 2,000 tortoises, about 40 percent of the population that is alive today, according to BBC News.

That’s a lot of work for one tortoise.

While the Galápagos National Parks service thinks that Diego was taken from Española during an expedition in the early 20th century, he had been brought back to the Santa Cruz facility in 1976 after spending 30 years at the San Diego Zoo in California, according to The New York Times. At the time, there were only 12 female and two male tortoises left on Española.

Tortoises "Diego", a species of the Española Island giant tortoise species, is pictured in a breeding centre at the Galapagos National Park in Santa Cruz Island, in the Galapagos archipelago, located some 1,000 km off Ecuador's coast, on June 4, 2013.
| Credit: RODRIGO BUENDIA/Getty Images

Diego was especially critical to the survival of his species because of his “big personality,” said James P. Gibbs, a professor of environmental and forest biology at the State University of New York in Syracuse, to The New York Times. Given that the facility only had three males to work with, only Diego and another “more reserved” male tortoise were able to reproduce. The third tortoise did not produce any offspring, The New York Times reported. Gibbs added that Diego was “quite aggressive, active and vocal in his mating habits and so I think he has gotten most of the attention.”

Scientists project that the giant tortoises will be able to reproduce normally on Española, according to The New York Times. Before returning to the island, all tortoises had to spend time in quarantine to ensure they did not bring in any seeds that are not native to Española.

Ecuador's environment minister, Paulo Proaño Andrade said on Twitter that the park is “closing an important chapter,” adding that Española welcomed all the tortoises back “with open arms.”