The Enigma Of Fernanda – A Lone Survivor In Galápagos

Rows of young cacao seedlings grow in Galápagos, promising a future of unique chocolate flavors and contributing to the islands’ biodiversity
Swiss Chocolate Meets Island Conservation
December 15, 2023
The radiant Vermilion Flycatcher, recognized for its vivid red feathers.
One species of flycatcher in Galápagos appears extinct. Does the same fate await another?
December 28, 2023
Fernanda, the last known Fernandina giant tortoise

©Lucas Bustamante

The discovery of Fernanda — a female Galapagos tortoise, the last member of the Fernandina (Chelonoidisphantasticus), previously believed extinct for more than a century — marked a conservation breakthrough by rediscovering an lost species. It is now highlighting the grim reality that species are extinction. The Galapagos Conservancy, the Galapagos National Park Directorate and other teams have made extensive expeditions to Fernandina island to search for another member of this species. Despite their efforts, they were unsuccessful. We are moving closer to the conclusion that Fernanda may be an endling.

A Remarkable Discovery

Galápagos giant tortoise

©Joshua Vela

Scientists from the Galapagos Conservancy and the Galapagos National Park Directorate discovered Fernanda in 2019. The initial excitement was temper with caution as genetic tests would be needed to confirm the species.

The geneticists at Yale University led by Dr. Gisella Caccone performed the analysis. The DNA of Fernanda matched the only other giant tortoise found on Fernandina Island, which was killed in 1906 by scientists and stored in a museum ever since. This confirmation led to a large-scale and immediate response to find a male partner for Fernanda in order to revive the almost extinct species.

The Quest for Survival

Galapagos National Park Directorate, and Galapagos Conservancy, were energized by this scientific confirmation. They organized ambitious expeditions in order to find additional tortoises. Scientists, rangers and volunteers searched the island despite its challenging terrain, which is dominated by a volcano. Even aerial support was mobilized to explore terrains that were inaccessible. No other tortoises were found.

Conservation Dilemma

Fernanda’s discovery gave hope, but the fact that no other animals of her kind have been found highlights the tragedy facing many species. Fernanda is currently housed at the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center, Santa Cruz. She serves as a symbol of both hope and urgency in conservation efforts.

Danny Rueda Cordova said, “We want to avoid Lonesome George’s fate,” referring the the last Pinta tortoise that died in 2012. It left no offspring. Fernanda needs a companion to avoid another heartbreaking loss.

The case of Fernanda – the presumed lone Fernandina tortoise surviving – encapsulates both the moral and complex challenges of modern conservation. Her survival in spite of all odds is a glimmering hope. However, the fact that no other members of the species have been found underscores how urgent and complex the work ahead will be. Fernanda is a powerful reminder of nature’s fragility and resilience. Her existence fuels efforts to preserve not only her species, but also the ecosystem in which she lives.