When Washington Tapia found a Fernandina giant tortoise on its namesake island in the Galápagos, it was like winning an Academy Award. "For me it was the most important achievement of my life because I have been working on tortoise conservation for 30 years," says the director of the nonprofit Galápagos Conservancy’s Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI) and leader of the expedition. "This was basically my Oscar." Tapia and a team of four rangers from the Galápagos National Park—Jeffreys Malaga, Eduardo Vilema, Roberto Ballesteros, and Simon Villamar—were overwhelmed when they found the female Chelonoidis phantasticus on Fernandina, an active shield volcano and the youngest of the Galápagos Islands. The last time a confirmed sighting of the species was registered was in 1906. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had flagged the Fernandina giant tortoise on its Red List as possibly extinct until 2017, two years after Malaga came across the reptile’s feces in the park and three years after the inauguration of the GTRI. Its designation was then changed to critically endangered . "It was a clear indication the tortoises were still there," Tapia says. On this particular Sunday, February 17, the team set out at 6 […]

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