An international team of researchers from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Yale University, Galapagos National Park Service, and the Galapagos Conservancy have discovered a new species of tortoise named Chelonoidis donfaustoi in Santa Cruz, one of the islands in the Galapagos archipelagos.
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In a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers had always thought there was one species of giant tortoises in Santa Cruz, but the latest discovery brings to two the giant tortoises on the island.
"This is a small and isolated group of tortoises that never attracted much attention from biologists previously," said Dr. James Gibbs, a conservative biologist at SUNY and one of the researchers. "But we now know that they are as distinct as any species of tortoise in the archipelago. Their discovery and formal description will help these tortoises receive the scientific and management attention they need to fully recover."
The new tortoise Chelonoidis donfaustoi is named after Fausto Llerena Sanchez, a retired ranger with the Galapagos National Park Directorate who worked tirelessly for 43 years to cater to the giant tortoises. Sanchez is best known as Don Fausto among his colleagues, hence the name donfaustoi for the new tortoise species.
Sanchez managed the Tortoise Breeding and Rearing Center in Santa Cruz, and the tortoise populations grew under his dedicated care.
"It's to honor Don Fausto for all his dedication and hard work," Gibbs said. "He devoted his life to saving many critically endangered tortoises through captive breeding. It isn't easy to breed tortoises in captivity. He didn't have many resources or much guidance. He figured it out through patient observation, great creativity and intelligence, and tremendous resourcefulness."
And to pinpoint his dedication to breeding tortoises in captivity even when reputable zoos around the world have not succeeded at it, Gibbs said "I recall many times seeing Don Fausto early on a Sunday morning, when most everybody else was still asleep, riding his bike to the captive rearing center to tend to the tortoises. His dedication to his work has been inspirational."
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Genetic and morphological analyses run Dr. Gisella Caccone of Yale revealed that the new tortoise species and the native giant tortoises in Santa Cruz may have mated in the past. The two types of tortoise populations have now been divided into Western Santa Cruz Tortoise for the native creatures, and Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise for the newly discovered species.