Wikipedia:Today's featured article/April 14, 2012

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An adult Galápagos tortoise

The Galápagos tortoise is the largest living species of tortoise and 10th-heaviest living reptile. With life spans in the wild of over 100 years, it is one of the longest-lived vertebrates. The tortoise is native to seven of the Galápagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago about 1,000 km (620 mi) west of the Ecuadorian mainland. Shell size and shape vary between populations; these differences helped Charles Darwin to develop his theory of evolution. Tortoise numbers declined from over 250,000 in the 16th century to a low of around 3,000 in the 1970s. The decline was caused by hunting for tortoise meat and oil, habitat clearance for agriculture, and introduction of non-native animals such as rats, goats, and pigs. Ten subspecies of the original fifteen survive in the wild. An eleventh subspecies has only a single known living individual, in captivity, nicknamed Lonesome George. Conservation efforts beginning in the 20th century have resulted in thousands of captive-bred juveniles being released onto their home islands, and it is estimated that numbers exceeded 19,000 at the start of the 21st century. Despite this rebound, the species as a whole is classified as "Vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). (more...)

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