This is every heterosexual adolescent male’s fantasy at one point or another. You and a bunch of fertile females are stranded on a desert island. You are all that stands between a viable future and total extinction. Time to get to work. But it wasn’t a fantasy for this 100 year old tortoise. Diego, the lucky stud, has been busy. And he’s saved his species from extinction.
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The original reports on Diego’s service to his species claimed he had saved his kind single-handedly–though that might be a slight exaggeration, as someone had to lay those eggs. Still, Diego is genetically responsible for 800 offspring on the island of Espanola in the Galapagos islands, off the coast of South America.
“He’s a very sexually active male reproducer,” said Washington Tapia. Tapia works with tortoise preservation in Galapagos National Park. “He’s contributed enormously to repopulating the island.”
Diego’s sexual exploits are even more shocking when you consider he’s a tourist. Diego was born in the San Diego Zoo, which is as good a zoo as any–but it can’t compare to the Galapagos. He was brought over in the 1960s, when scientists discovered he was a chelonoidis hoodensis, a species native to the island of Espanola.
When Diego arrived on the island, there were only two males, but there were 12 females. And so he got busy. He was so successful that scientists moved him to the island of Santa Cruz island, where he is kept with his harem of six females. This prevents inbreeding that would be rampant in such a shallow gene-pool.
“We don’t know exactly how or when he arrived in the United States. He must have been taken from Espanola sometime between 1900 and 1959 by a scientific expedition,” said Tapia.
“We did a genetic study and we discovered that he was the father of nearly 40 percent of the offspring released into the wild on Espanola,” Tapia said.
There are an estimated 2,000 tortoises on the island now. Diego can claim 40% of that population as his own.
“I wouldn’t say (the species) is in perfect health, because historical records show there probably used to be more than 5,000 tortoises on the island. But it’s a population that’s in pretty good shape – and growing, which is the most important,” said Tapia.