Diego is hanging up his shell, so to speak.
He’s been siring baby tortoises since the 1960s and has finally headed home to the uninhabited Galápagos island of Española, along with 15 other tortoises.
After his retirement was first announced in January, Diego has finally touched down in his new home for good.
“We are closing an important chapter,” Ecuador’s Environment Minister Paulo Proaño Andrade tweeted on Monday, adding that Diego and his shelled friends “are going back home after decades of reproducing in captivity and saving their species from extinction.”
The animals were welcomed “with open arms,” he added.
Cerramos un capítulo importante en la gestión del @parquegalapagos, 15 tortugas de #Española, incluyendo a #Diego, regresan a casa tras décadas de reproducirse en cautiverio y salvar a su especie de la extinción. Su isla las recibe con los brazos abiertos. (Noticia en desarrollo) pic.twitter.com/M4a4maQm9E
— Paulo Proaño Andrade (@PauloProanoA) June 15, 2020
The group of tortoises underwent a quarantine period to avoid the accidental transport of seeds from other plants not native to the island, The Guardian reports.
Diego is believed to have sired more than 2,000 giant tortoises over his 30-year career in reproduction.
About 50 years ago, Española was home to only two males and 12 females, per the BBC.
Almost half of all living Española Island giant tortoises are related to Diego, environmentalist James P. Gibbs told the New York Times.
Gibbs credits Diego’s success to his “big personality.” He says the tortoise is “quite aggressive, active and vocal in his mating habits, and so I think he has gotten most of the attention.”
However, he’s not the most successful tortoise. One of the other males, who is known only as E5, helped spawn 60 per cent of the total tortoise population, Gibbs said. The third male has contributed virtually nothing to the repopulation efforts.
“It clearly is the other quieter male that has had much more success,” Gibbs said. He added that the quieter male wasn’t nearly as showy with his mating habits as Diego.
“Maybe he prefers to mate more at night.”
The Galápagos National Parks service (PNG) believes that Diego was taken from his native home in the early 20th century during a scientific expedition.
He found his way to the San Diego Zoo and, decades ago, was brought back to the Islands for the breeding program — which has obviously been a great success.
— With files from Global News reporter Josh K. Elliott
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