A group of scientists hope to restore now-extinct tortoises on Galapagos Islands, as they have recently found species that carry the genes of the Pinta Island tortoises, a species of gain tortoises which officially went extinct three years ago when its last survivor Lonesome George (pictured) died at age 102.
Scientists also have hopes to revive another extinct subspecies – the Floreana Island tortoises, which were last seen on the islands by Charles Darwin about 180 years ago.
James Gibbs, the leader of the conservationist team and biology professor at State University of New York, noted that bringing back to life an exact replica of George is impossible since the tortoise had unique genetic markers. But the team is confident that it can restore a species that carries 95 percent of the now defunct giant tortoise.
Moreover, researchers believe that both species they are after may not be extinct at all since there are reports of odd-looking tortoises on remote volcanic islands within the archipelago.
Additionally, the team recently found a large colony of tortoises on an island where biologists had discovered a rare type of pink iguana. Biologists think that the newly-found tortoises may belong to a species declared extinct, but they still await DNA tests’ results.
In November, Gibbs and his fellow researchers investigated the last live tortoises on the Galapagos Islands. Scientists found the animals on 17 of 19 islands of the archipelago. The largest island, the Isabela Island, is now believed to be home of the largest number of tortoises. Seven years ago, biologists found over 1,600 animals on the island.
Gibbs explained that locals have reported for decades the presence of some peculiar tortoises on their island, which were nothing like the native species that live there and have rounded shells.
Scientists speculate that about a century ago, hungry sailors who used the animals to survive have displaced some of the Pinta Island tortoises and brought them to Isabela Island. Laboratory tests confirmed that 17 tortoises carried some traces of Pinta Island DNA along with genes of indigenous tortoises.
Gibbs explained that in some cases the ratio of Pinta Island and indigenous DNA was 50:50. This may suggest that pure species from Pinta may have reached Isabela Island in a not so distant past.
The team found the large colony close to Banks Bay and picked 32 live specimens for their research. Researchers hope that some of these animals may be direct relatives to Lonesome George as tortoises can sometimes reach 150 years old.
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