Diego was found at the San Diego Zoo in 1976 after an international search for the Chelonoidis hoodensis species. “We don't know exactly how or when he arrived in the United States. He must have been taken from Española sometime between 1900 and 1959 by a scientific expedition,” said Tapia.
Six years ago, scientists did a study and found out that Diego was the father of 40 percent of the tortoises that have been released into the wild on Española from the breeding program. It was only then that they realized how important Diego was to the species.
Fifty years before Diego made his rounds, there were only two male and 12 female tortoises on the Island. Because of the program, 2,000 tortoises have been released on the island. Thanks to the breeding program and Diego’s sex drive, the species is no longer facing extinction.
Of the 15 species of giant tortoise from the Galapagos, three have gone extinct. “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 it's a population that's in pretty good shape — and growing, which is the most important," said Tapia.