To stop the northern white rhinoceros from slipping into extinction, officials in Kenya put the last remaining male under 24-hour armed protection from poachers and prayed that he wasn’t too old to mate.
If only they had a Diego.
The century-old, extremely sexually active giant hooded tortoise, has single-handedly brought his species back from the brink of extinction.
Fifty years ago, there were 14 members of Chelonoidis hoodensis, in Española, an island of the Galapagos Islands — 12 females and two males.
They did not even need the other guy. Since 1976, Diego has fathered more than 800 young — 2 of every 5 hooded tortoises in existence, according to genetic testing.
“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 Agence France-Presse.
On the island, where he greets tourists and feasts on native plants and cacti, they call him Super Diego.
Diego’s origins are a bit of a mystery. A scientific expedition scooped him up from Española sometime between 1900 and 1959. He wound up in the zoo in San Diego. In 1976, when scientists determined that Chelonoidis hoodensis was a separate, and rare, species, Diego was brought back to the Galapagos Islands chain off the coast of Ecuador, to a captive breeding facility.
The decades of international travel would probably make for a good Tinder profile, not that Diego needs one. The 175-pound, five-foot long tortoise lives in an enclosure with six female tortoises.
Other endangered species have made dramatic comebacks, but the hooded tortoise’s case is the only one in which the revitalization can be linked to a single source.
Island foxes, which live off the coast of Southern California, were nearly wiped out when hawks realized they made easy meals. But cooperation between several government groups and a captive breeding program has seen the fox population rise to 6,000.
In 1985, there were only 10 West Virginia northern flying squirrels, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. By 2013, after being deemed endangered for nearly 30 years, there were approximately 1,100 of the squirrels in West Virginia forests.
Three other tortoise species native to the Galapagos Islands have gone extinct.
Hopes for another threatened species, Chelonoidis abingdoni, faded when its last known survivor died in 2012 at more than 100 years old, according to AFP.
Known as Lonesome George, he had refused for years to breed in captivity.