The Galapagos were discovered by Europeans in 1535 and it took just half a millennium to virtually wipe out a species that had been walking the Earth for millions of years. Out of the more than quarter million roaming the islands in the sixteenth century, by the 1970s only a few thousand specimens of the ten surviving sub-species (referred to as races by tortoise experts) were living on the islands.
One race (Chelonoidis nigra porteri), found on the island of Espanola was down to just 14 individual animals. There was no time for anything other than drastic action. All individuals plus one from San Diego Zoo in California were collected and taken to Santa Cruz island. There a breeding and repatriation program began with the 12 females and 3 males representing the last best hope for their race. This interventionist approach has resulted in Espanola now being home to over a thousand giant tortoises.