Diego is an old male Española saddleback tortoise, Chelonoidis hoodensis, and his journey is nothing short of extraordinary. His nickname comes from the four decades he spent at the San Diego Zoo after being taken from his native land by an early 20th century scientific expedition. The Zoo generously him returned to Galapagos in 1977 to join the captive breeding program that was started by the Charles Darwin Research Station, and later expanded by the Galapagos National Park Directorate on Santa Cruz Island. During this time, Diego was an active contributor to the team and was famous for fathering around 40% of the thousands of baby tortoises hatched at the facility for reintroduction to their island of origin.
Over five decades, the breeding colony’s collective efforts helped to repatriate 2,000 tortoise toddlers to Española and reached a state of natural recruitment—meaning enough native-born tortoises make it to reproductive age to continue to sustain the species. They even began to repopulate Santa Fe, as the island’s extinct species were also saddlebacks. Now, at last, Diego is home on Espanola Island having retired from his job with the captive breeding program - mission accomplished, his species saved. All he needs is a fruit or spiny pad to fall from the cactus in whose shade he waits for the next rainy season to green up his island once more.