In Brief

'Very sexually active' tortoise saves species from extinction

The 100-year-old reptile has fathered nearly half the giant tortoises on the Galapagos Islands

A giant male tortoise with an extremely high sex drive has helped bring his species back from the brink of extinction on the Galapagos Islands.

The randy reptile, a 100-year-old Chelonoidis hoodensis tortoise called Diego, has fathered 800 offspring – nearly 40 per cent of the growing tortoise population during his lifetime.

"He's a very sexually active male," said Washington Tapia, a tortoise preservation specialist at Galapagos National Park. "He's contributed enormously to repopulating the island."

However, he added: "I wouldn't say [the species] is in perfect health, because historical records show there probably used to be more than 5,000 tortoises on the island." But he concedes that the population is in "pretty good shape - and growing, which is the most important".

Of the 15 species of giant tortoise from the Galapagos, three are now extinct – "victims of 18th-century pirates who plundered the islands' fragile ecosystem", AFP reports.

Diego has "a mysterious, globe-trotting background to go with his reputation as a Casanova," it adds. The tortoise was found in a San Diego zoo and was brought back to the islands in 1976 to take part in a captive breeding programme.

"We don't know exactly how or when he arrived in the United States. He must have been taken from Espanola [an island in the Galapagos] sometime between 1900 and 1959 by a scientific expedition," Tapia said.

The Sun newspaper speculates that Diego's stint at a California zoo "during the free-love 1960s" is the reason behind his "life as a Lothario".

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