The tortoise whose rampant sex drive helped save his species is finally retiring

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Oct 27, 2017

The Española giant tortoise was once considered beyond saving. After decades in decline, just over a dozen were left on the Galapagos island by the 1970s, most of them female. Their numbers were so sparse that some probably had gone decades without encountering another tortoise. Extinction seemed inevitable.

Then Diego came along. Flown in from the San Diego Zoo in 1976, the extremely sexually active tortoise went on to father upward of 800 offspring. His considerable effort helped his species, known scientifically as Chelonoidis hoodensis, rebound to a population of 2,000. It also turned him into a star, his sexual prowess the subject of articles in newspapers across the globe.
Now, the ancient tortoise is headed for retirement. Officials with the Galapagos National Park announced Friday that the breeding program has been so successful that it is being terminated. Diego, believed to be more than 100 years old, will be released from captivity and returned to the wild.

Not that it’ll slow his storied sex drive.

“He might actually amp it up,” said James P. Gibbs, a professor of environmental and forest biology at the State University of New York in Syracuse who has assisted in the Galapagos program. “I don’t know — we shall see.”
His popularity was not limited to his own species: Galapagos tourists became fond of him, too. Unlike most tortoises, he isn’t reclusive, Gibbs said, and was often seen exploring his home or mating. He has been known to stare out at each of his visitors. Sometimes, he even hisses at them.

“It’s not just that he has a name and a story,” Gibbs said. “He is a very distinctive tortoise. He has this very bold personality, kind of broken scutes, a big yellow neck. He’s just an out and about tortoise.”
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