By Stacey Leasca
January 15, 2020
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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.
RODRIGO BUENDIA/Getty Images

If anyone has earned the right to retire, it’s Diego.

Since 1976, the giant tortoise, who hails from San Diego, has lived at the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos. There, he’s been extremely busy getting busy.

You see, Diego is retiring today after helping repopulate the entire species of giant tortoises from the Galapagos island of Española.

Once just one of 15 surviving tortoises of his kind (12 females and three males), Diego has helped boomerang his species back to more than 2,000 members. But it was an exceptionally long (and slow) journey to get there.

As The New York Times explained, the conservation program began in 1965. It was first focused on saving another species — the tortoise population on Pinzón Island. However, by 1970, it expanded to include the Española Island tortoises as well.

Truly, it was a matter of life or death, as there were just 14 tortoises left. But, in 1976, the conservationists introduced their third male to the program, Diego, who had been flown in from his home at the San Diego Zoo to…assist. And boy did he outperform every expectation.

Diego, the researchers said in a statement, "has become a symbol of the Galapagos conservation, since it is estimated that approximately 40 percent of the turtles repatriated on Española Island are his descendants."

But those aren’t the only tortoises to carry Diego’s DNA. According to the San Diego Zoo, he sired his fair share of children there, too. They estimate Diego is the father of at least 1,700 offspring.

Now, researchers say that Diego, who is over 100 years old, will get to return home to Española Island almost 80 years after he was extracted and displayed at a zoo. He can keep up the good work there, but this time it will all just be for fun.