Diego, a Galapagos giant tortoise, can finally be released back into the wild after helping save the species from the brink of extinction.

 The 100-year-old tortoise was first recruited along with 14 others for a captive breeding program. After helping in the 40% of the 2,000-tortoise population, the Galapagos National Parks (GNP) service said that Diego will be returned to his native island of Espanola this March.

He was first brought in from California’s San Diego Zoo in the mid-1960s to join the breeding program and save his species, Chelonoidis hoodensis.

“About 1,800 tortoises have been returned to Espanola and now with natural reproduction we have approximately 2,000 tortoises,” Jorge Carrion, the park’s director, told AFP. “This shows that they are able to grow, they are able to reproduce, they are able to develop.”

There were only two males and 12 females of Diego’s species left around 50 years ago.

“He’s contributed a large percentage to the lineage that we are returning to Espanola,” Carrion added. “There’s a feeling of happiness to have the possibility of returning that tortoise to his natural state.”

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