In an astounding feat that would leave even the most seasoned of womanisers shaking their heads in disbelief, Diego the sex-crazed tortoise is estimated to have fathered a mind-boggling 800 children. It’s an act which has pulled his species back from the brink of extinction, much to the delight of those responsible for the conservation program that has looked after him for the past forty years.
When it was found that the Chelonoidis hoodensis species – which is only found on Espanola, an archipelago in the Pacific - was near extinction in the Seventies a search was launched to find any tortoises of the species that were being kept in captivity. It was this search that led the conservation program to find the absolute stud that is Diego, at San Diego zoo – hence the name.
Around 50 years ago there were reported to be as few as 14 of the tortoises living on Espanola, a number which is closer to 2,000 now. It's estimated that Diego was taken from his natural home on the archipelago at some point between 1900 and 1959 as part of a scientific expedition.
Once he was located in 1976, the shelled lothario was taken to the Galapagos and put into a captive breeding program. He is estimated to have fathered a staggering 40% of the tortoises released back onto Espanola since the program began. Not bad going for a 100-year-old, not bad going at all!
Unfortunately not all tortoise captive breeding programs are as successful as Diego's. For years a Pinta Island tortoise nicknamed Lonesome George, who was the last known male of his subspecies, refused to mate in captivity. Despite being similar to Diego genetically, in terms of libido he was much the opposite. On the rare occasion that George got the horn his mating attempts were unsuccessful, producing eggs that were inviable.
In fact Lonesome George was so genetically similar to his counterparts on Espanola that in a last ditch attempt to mate him, two females of the same subspecies as Diego were flown over to be penned with him. Unfortunately for the future of his family, George turned his nose up at both of them.
If only he'd taken a leaf out of Diego's book things might have been very different.