Animals

Diego, The Tortoise Whose Mating Habits Helped Save His Species From Extinction, Is Retiring

There are now thousands of little Diegos crawling around!

Some people call him a “playboy.” Others say he has a “high sex drive.” But for the last 43 years, Diego was just doing his job — mating with the eligible lady-tortoises of the Galápagos Islands to repopulate their species. And now his work is done.

Over the course of four decades, Diego’s offspring have helped raise the tortoise population from 15 individuals to 2,000. Last week, Ecuador’s Galápagos National Park and the Galápagos Conservancy announced that they’re ending their breeding program because of the tortoises’ now-bright future. Here’s their announcement on Facebook, featuring some beefcake photos of Diego:

James P. Gibbs, a professor of environmental and forest biology at the State University of New York in Syracuse, told the New York Times that Diego is indeed a titan among tortoises.

“[He has] a big personality — quite aggressive, active and vocal in his mating habits and so I think he has gotten most of the attention,” Gibbs said in the Times.

About 800 of the repopulated tortoises are attributed to Diego and his wanton ways. Interestingly, another, more reserved male in the Galàpagos breeding program has fathered a larger percentage of the offspring. But, as Gibbs told Live Science, he doesn’t have an outsized personality and just goes by an identification number — unlike flashy Diego.

Diego is thought to have been taken from the Galápagos island of Española in the 1930s. He found his way to the San Diego Zoo at some point, which is where scientists recruited him into the conservation program in 1976. He’s estimated to be more than 100 years old — well past the age of human retirement, but quite normal for a Galápagos tortoise.

galapagos tortoise photo
Getty Images | Oli Scarff

What’s next for Diego and his cohort of fertile turtles? In March, they return to their ancestral home on Española. According to ABC News, they’ll first have to spend some time in quarantine to make sure they don’t bring the seeds of non-native species to the island. But after that, the shell-derly heroes will be released from captivity.

It’s been a wild life for old Diego the tortoise. After helping save his entire species, maybe he’s finally ready to slow down.