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New Tortoise Species Identified: The Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise

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On Santa Cruz Island, two populations of giant tortoises occur — one on the west side of the island in an area known as the “Reserve,” and one on the lower eastern slopes near a hill named “Cerro Fatal.” Until now, it was assumed that these groups belonged to the same species of tortoise.

On Santa Cruz Island, two populations of giant tortoises occur — one on the west side of the island in an area known as the “Reserve,” and one on the lower eastern slopes near a hill named “Cerro Fatal.” Until now, it was assumed that these groups belonged to the same species of tortoise.
Genetic analyses, conducted by an international team led by Dr. Gisella Caccone of Yale University, have now clearly identified these two populations as separate species: the Western Santa Cruz Tortoise (Chelonoidis porteri), and the newly named Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise (Chelonoidis donfaustoi). While the Western Santa Cruz Tortoise population has a few thousand individuals, the Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise population numbers in the hundreds. Its distribution, nesting zones, abundance, and potential threats are not well known. As a distinct species, special emphasis will now be placed on the Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise as part of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative.
The new Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise was named in honor of Fausto Llerena Sánchez, known to his colleagues and friends as “Don Fausto.” Don Fausto dedicated 43 years of service to giant tortoise conservation as a park ranger for the Galapagos National Park Directorate, and served as Lonesome George's long-term caretaker.

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