Diego: Papa Extraordinaire

Española tortoises are reared for five years before being released on the Galápagos' Española Island. (Courtesy of Galápagos National Park)

Diego, the 100-Year-Old Tortoise Who Fathered 900 Babies, Returns to the Wild

By Theresa Machemer/Smithsonianmag.com.

The breeding program for the Galápagos’ Española tortoises has ended after more than 40 years. Española Island is now home to a stable population of 2,000 Española tortoises, recovered from only 12 females and three males in 1976.

The program started with only two male tortoises until a third, named Diego, was found in the San Diego Zoo. He had lived in the zoo for about 30 years before joining the breeding program on the Galápagos’ Santa Cruz island. Diego, now over 100 years old, had a big impact on the program; he has a strong personality and isn’t shy about sex, which earned him a reputation online. Now, he and the 14 other tortoises in the breeding program are preparing to return home.

Genetic testing of the young tortoises living on Española island, which has been done regularly since the 1990’s, revealed that Diego fathered about 40 percent of them. Another tortoise, called E5, is responsible for the other 60 percent. The third male, E3, has produced very few offspring.

Diego has “a big personality — quite aggressive, active and vocal in his mating habits and so I think he has gotten most of the attention,” says conservation biologist James P. Gibbs to the New York Times’ Aimee Ortiz.

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