GALAPAGOS — You may have heard of Diego the Galapagos tortoise by now – the legendary Casanova that single-handledly saved his species from extinction by fathering more than 800 offspring.
But as with most things on the internet, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Turns out Diego isn’t the most prolific tortoise, and he most certainty didn’t do it alone.
“Diego is prolific, but not the most prolific,” said James Gibbs, a professor of conservation biology at the State University of New York, “Although you can’t argue with 800 offspring.”
The guy with the most impressive performance is actually the nameless E15. According to genetic testing, E15 has fathered twice as many offspring as Diego.
“Diego isn’t the biggest one, but he’s got a spunky personality,” Gibbs said.
Around 50 years ago, Diego was one of 15 remaining chelonoidis hoodensis left: three males and 12 females.
Though native to Espanola, Diego lived at the San Diego Zoo from the 1930s to early 1960s.
When the National Galapagos Park was established, he was returned to the Galapagos as part of an effort to rebuild populations of species on the verge of extinction.
Diego’s distinctive shell sets him apart from his peers – it’s noticeably broken along the edges.
“He has the look of a hardened warrior,” Gibbs said. “He’s been through a lot.”
Before the world came to know Diego, there was George, a chelonoidis abingdoni. In 2012, conservationists watched George, the last of the Pinta Island Giant tortoises, die off.
George, who was known as “warm” with a “reserved personality,” lived in captivity after he was discovered in the 1970s, but he had no interest in any of his hybrid suitors. Conservation efforts were just too late.
Gibbs calls it a “collective failure” to act on time. By then, whalers and pirates destroyed the tortoise population by removing them and hunting them as food. The introduction of goats and rats preyed on the local population and their eggs.
Diego on the other hand is a relative success story and, with that charming face, the new poster child for conservation efforts.