Meet Diego, the 100-year-old sex-crazed Galapagos tortoise who saved his species

The mighty and prolific Diego. RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images

He may be 100 years old, but Diego the tortoise is quite the Casanova.

Diego is a Galapagos giant tortoise, specifically a Chelonoidis hoodensis, and the father of 800 offspring.  And he’s being credited with saving his species from extinction.

Fifty years ago there were just two males and four females on Espanola Island, one of the southern-most of the Galapagos. Worse still, they were too spread out to mate. So, in stepped scientists who put him in a tortoise breeding centre on Santa Cruz Island. Today, he shares his enclosure with six other females. There are also three other males in the facility. But none like him.

“He’s a very sexually active male reproducer. He’s contributed enormously to repopulating the island,” Washington Tapia, a tortoise preservation specialist at Galapagos National Park told AFP.

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Diego, a tortoise of the endangered Chelonoidis hoodensis subspecies from Española Island, is seen in a breeding centre at the Galapagos National Park on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos archipelago, located some 1,000 km off Ecuador’s coast, on September 10, 2016. RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images

Diego gets his name from the San Diego Zoo where he was found after Chelonoidis hoodensis was identified as a species. Scientists anticipate that he was brought to the U.S. sometime between 1900 and 1959. In 1976, Diego was returned to his home and put in a breeding program.

Well, that program was highly effective: more than 2,000 tortoises have been released into the wild. And scientists were surprised to discover that he is the progenitor of about 40 per cent of the offspring released on the island.

Though his species is on the road to recovery, they’re still not out of complete danger. Tapia told AFP that there used to be 5,000 of the tortoises at one time, but that the current numbers are promising.

Three of 15 known species of giant Galapagos tortoises are known to have gone extinct.

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