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New Giant Galapagos Tortoise Species Discovered

First Posted: Oct 21, 2015 07:58 PM EDT

A new, giant tortoise species has been found in the Galapagos Islands. While researchers have long thought there was only one species, it turns out that there are two living on the island of Santa Cruz in the center of the Galapagos Archipelago.

"This is a small isolated group of tortoises that never attracted much attention from biologists previously," said James Gibbs, one of the researchers, in a news release. "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."

There are two populations on the island. There's a large population on the west side in an area known as the "Reserve" and another on the lower eastern slopes around a hill named "Cerro Fatal." Until recently, researchers believed that these populations belonged to the same species. Now, though, scientists have found that they are, in fact, separate and distinct species.

Giant tortoises are among the most devastated of all Galapagos creatures due to human exploitation and habitat degradation. Now that researchers know that there are two populations, it will be more important than ever to take steps in order to preserve these two different species of tortoises in the Galapagos.

The findings are published in the journal PLOS One.

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