Chelonoidis duncanensis 

Scope: Global
Language: English

Translate page into:

Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Reptilia Testudines Testudinidae

Scientific Name: Chelonoidis duncanensis (Pritchard, 1996)
Common Name(s):
English Pinzón Giant Tortoise, Duncan Island Giant Tortoise
Spanish Tortuga Gigante de Pinzón
Chelonoidis nigra ssp. duncanensis (Pritchard, 1996)
Geochelone elephantopus ssp. ephippium (Günther, 1875)
Geochelone nigra ssp. duncanensis Pritchard, 1996
Geochelone nigra ssp. ephippium (Günther, 1875)
Testudo elephantopus ssp. ephippium (Günther, 1875)
Testudo ephippium Günther, 1875
Taxonomic Source(s): Fritz, U. and Havas, P. 2007. Checklist of chelonians of the world. Vertebrate Zoology 57(2): 149-368.
Taxonomic Notes: The previous Red List assessments for Galápagos tortoises treated the various allopatric island populations as subspecies of Chelonoidis nigra (now named Chelonoidis niger), as did several authors (Pritchard 1996, Caccone et al. 1999, Beheregaray et al. 2003, Fritz and Havas 2007,TTWG 2007, Rhodin et al. 2008). However, other authors have considered them as full species based on morphology (Bour 1980, Fritts 1983, Ernst and Barbour 1989) and the more recent consensus among researchers (Caccone et al. 2002; Russello et al. 2005, 2007; Poulakakis et al. 2008, 2012, 2015; Chiari et al. 2009) is to treat most as full species based on congruent patterns of mitochondrial and nuclear variation. This elevated species-level taxonomy has been largely accepted by TTWG (2009, 2014) and TEWG (2015) for most, but not all, phylogenetic lineages of Galápagos tortoises. This Red List assessment therefore now treats C. duncanensis as a full species, rather than retaining its previous subspecies ranking from earlier Red List assessments    

This species from Pinzón (Duncan Island) was included on IUCN Red Lists before 2007 under the name Geochelone nigra ssp. ephippium. However, this name was interpreted by Pritchard (1996) to actually refer to Chelonoidis abingdonii, the Pinta Giant Tortoise, and therefore was replaced by the name duncanensis Pritchard, 1996, a recommendation accepted by Fritz and Havas (2007) as well as TTWG (2007, 2014). While the name duncanensis is used here, as it has been on the Red List since 2007, a genetic analysis of the ephippium type specimen is planned, which will determine whether the name change is indeed warranted. Many researchers (e.g., Jensen et al. 2015), including most of the Assessors on this account, continue to use the name C. ephippium for the Pinzón Tortoise, and we await genetic analysis for a final determination as to the correct name to use.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A1abde; D1+2 ver 3.1
Year Published: 2017
Date Assessed: 2015-04-22
Assessor(s): Cayot, L.J., Gibbs, J.P., Tapia, W. & Caccone, A.
Reviewer(s): Rhodin, A.G.J. & van Dijk, P.P.
Contributor(s): IUCN Galapagos Tortoises Red Listing Workshop, Galapagos National Park Directorate
Facilitator/Compiler(s): van Dijk, P.P.

After collapse of the population in the 19th century due to targeted exploitation, mostly by whalers for food (Pritchard 1996), recruitment was prevented by predation of hatchlings by introduced Black Rats. The population has recently (last three decades) started to recover as a result of reintroduction of headstarted animals. A successful rat eradication campaign was carried out in December 2012, and the first in situ live hatchlings sighted in 2014. The historic effective population size has been estimated at around 850 adult individuals (Jensen and Russello unpubl. data); the census population on Pinzón in December 2014 was estimated at 486 animals of all age classes combined (~70% adult), with additional young animals held at the Galápagos National Park Directorate’s Tortoise Centre on Santa Cruz Island. Recent genetic analyses found that Pinzón tortoises maintain high levels of variation in situ despite their well-documented decline, although the effective population size (Ne) for this species is 50-60 (Garrick et al. 2015, Russello et al. unpubl. data). Generation time of the Pinzón Giant Tortoise is estimated at 60 years; while all of the native reproducing adults on Pinzón are well over 100 years of age, many of the head-started animals released between 1970–1990 are now reproducing. Thus within three past generations the population declined from its historic level of at least 900 to a low of 100–200 older adult animals in 1960, and has since increased to about 500 animals in the wild at present, of which not all are mature, representing a current population of mature adults at about half of historical levels, qualifying for Vulnerable A1abde. Genetic data show that founders of the captive population are a reasonably diverse and representative group, although the headstart cohorts are not representative of the wild population (Jensen et al. 2015). Future head-start activities should strive to collect eggs and hatchlings from all nesting zones  to ensure capturing the full extent and distribution of genetic variation. Notably, native reproduction is again underway as of December 2014 (Tapia et al. 2015). At fewer than 1,000 mature adults occupying a single subpopulation, the species also meets the criteria for Vulnerable D1. The size of Pinzón, and thus maximum extent of occurrence (EOO), is 18 sq. km., of which at most 9 sq. km. is occupied by suitable habitat (area of occupancy – AOO), qualifying for Vulnerable D2; with a range of less than 20 sq. km., the species will always qualify as Vulnerable D2 even if full historic population levels are restored. This assessment also incorporates contributions from the international workshop on Galápagos tortoises convened by the Galápagos National Park Directorate in July 2012. This species was previously listed on the Red List in 1996 as Chelonoidis nigra ssp. ephippium, and since 2007 as Chelonoidis nigra ssp. duncanensis, with a status assessment of Extinct in the Wild, a listing that was unfortunately inaccurate, as more than 100–200 wild individuals have always been known to persist on Pinzón

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Occurs only on the very small island of Pinzón (Duncan Island), Galápagos Islands, Ecuador. The size of Pinzón is 18 sq. km, of which at most 9 sq. km (50%) is suitable tortoise habitat (J.P. Gibbs unpubl. data).
Countries occurrence:
Ecuador (Galápagos)
Additional data:
Estimated area of occupancy (AOO) - km2:9
Number of Locations:1
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Based on an estimated average density of one tortoise per hectare of suitable habitat, the pre-human population size was estimated to have been about 900 adults (J.P. Gibbs unpubl. data). The population collapsed in the 19th century due to targeted exploitation by whalers (Pritchard 1996) and then threatened by further collecting for museums and exploitation by fishermen and potentially other mariners at the beginning of the 20th century. Potential recovery through recruitment during the 20th century was prevented by total predation of hatchlings by introduced Black Rats. The population only started to recover after the establishment of a conservation breeding program initiated in 1965 and re-introduction of head-started animals beginning in the 1970s. In the early 1970s, the population was estimated at 150-200 (MacFarland et al. 1974). The 2014 population on the island was estimated at 486 animals of all age classes combined; the 20 adults held in captivity were returned to Pinzón in 2015 and an additional 229 juveniles have been repatriated there since then. Genetic analyses have suggested that the repatriated tortoises do not capture the full complement of genetic diversity present in the native adults. Although the most recent study indicates that the repatriated tortoises are, in general, a good representation of the genetic diversity of the native adults, future collections of eggs/hatchlings will focus on all nesting zones  to ensure the highest overall genetic diversity of the captive reared tortoises released back to the wild (Jensen et al. 2015).
Current Population Trend:Increasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:300-400, 340Continuing decline of mature individuals:No
Population severely fragmented:No
Continuing decline in subpopulations:No
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:NoAll individuals in one subpopulation:Yes

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

Chelonoidis duncanensis is a saddlebacked tortoise, a morphological adaptation that increases the vertical range of foraging options, from grazing on herbaceous vegetation to browsing on shrubs and cactus; the Pinzón ecosystem is largely dry xeric brushland.

Generation Length (years):60

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: The population was heavily exploited by whalers in the 19th century who provisioned their ships with living tortoises (Pritchard 1996).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s):

Previously threatened by offtake of live adults to provision whalers and others during the 19th century, followed by intensive collecting for museum specimens; in the 20th century, predation of all hatchlings by introduced Black Rats prevented population recovery until a program of head-starting (begun in 1965), followed by repatriation of the tortoises beginning in the  1970s. Rats, eradicated in 2012, still have an impact via their legacy of destructive activities, including potential effects on cactus regeneration from which it will take decades to recover. Major El Niño events (1982-83 and 1997-98) also had a major impact on cacti, causing the death of many.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

Legislation and regulations: Chelonoidis duncanensis is protected under Ecuadorian national law. It has been included in Appendix I of CITES since 1975, prohibiting all forms of commercial international trade. All of Pinzón and thus the entire native range of C. duncanensis is protected as part of the Galápagos National Park. Following the extirpation of most of the adult population of this species by 19th century exploitation by whalers and the subsequent total depredation of hatchlings by introduced Black Rats in the 20th century, a captive breeding and headstart program was initiated on Santa Cruz Island in 1965 by the Charles Darwin Research Station, and is currently run by the Galápagos National Park Directorate. Gradual repatriation of headstarted tortoises has been successfully undertaken since the 1970s (Rhodin et al. 1983, Caporaso 1991, Cayot et al. 1994), and the population is recovering. In December 2012, a rat eradication campaign was successfully completed. The first tortoise hatchlings born in the wild were documented in December 2014 (Tapia et al. 2015). Rearing young in captivity will continue for some time while the population continues to grow.

Classifications [top]

3. Shrubland -> 3.5. Shrubland - Subtropical/Tropical Dry
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:Yes
2. Land/water management -> 2.2. Invasive/problematic species control
3. Species management -> 3.2. Species recovery

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
  Action Recovery plan:Yes
  Systematic monitoring scheme:Yes
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Conservation sites identified:Yes, over entire range
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
  Percentage of population protected by PAs (0-100):91-100
In-Place Species Management
  Successfully reintroduced or introduced beningly:Yes
  Subject to ex-situ conservation:Yes
In-Place Education
  Included in international legislation:Yes
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:Yes
11. Climate change & severe weather -> 11.3. Temperature extremes
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species/diseases -> 8.1.2. Named species [ Rattus rattus ]
♦ timing:Past, Unlikely to Return    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

Bibliography [top]

Beheregaray, L.B., Ciofi, C., Caccone, A., Gibbs, J.P. and Powell, J.R. 2003. Genetic divergence, phylogeography and conservation units of giant tortoises from Santa Cruz and Pinzón, Galápagos Islands. Conservation Genetics 4: 31–46.

Bour, R. 1980. Essai sur la taxinomie des Testudinidae actuels (Reptilia, Chelonii). Bulletin du Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris 4(2A): 541–546.

Caccone, A., Gentile, G., Gibbs, J.P., Fritts, T.H., Snell, H.L., Betts, J. and Powell, J.R. 2002. Phylogeography and history of giant Galápagos tortoises. Evolution 56(10): 2052–2066.

Caccone, A., Gibbs, J.P., Ketmaier, V., Suatoni, E. and Powell, J.R. 1999. Origin and evolutionary relationships of giant Galápagos tortoises. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 96: 13223–13228.

Caporaso, F. 1991. The Galapagos tortoise conservation program: the plight and future for the Pinzón Island tortoise. In: K.R. Beaman, F. Caporaso, S. McKeown and M.D. Graff (eds), Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Turtles and Tortoises: Conservation and Captive Husbandry, 1990, pp. 113–126. Circle Printing Co., Los Angeles.

Cayot, L.J., Snell, H.L., Llerena, W. and Snell, H.M. 1994. Conservation biology of Galapagos reptiles: twenty-five years of successful research and management. In: J.B. Murphy, K. Adler and J.T. Collins (eds), Captive Management and Conservation of Amphibians and Reptiles, pp. 297–305. SSAR Contri. Herpetol. No. 11.

Chiari, Y., Hyseni, C., Fritts, T.H., Glaberman, S., Marquez, C., Gibbs, J.P., Claude, J. and Caccone, A. 2009. Morphometrics parallel genetics in a newly discovered and endangered taxon of Galápagos tortoise. PLoS One 4(7): e6272.

Ernst, C.H. and Barbour, R.W. 1989. Turtles of the World. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C.

Fritts, T.H. 1983. Morphometrics of Galapagos tortoises: evolutionary implications. In: R.I. Bowman and A.E. Leviton (eds), Patterns of Evolution in Galapagos Organisms, pp. 107–122. AAAS, San Francisco.

Fritz, U. and Havas, P. 2007. Checklist of Chelonians of the World. Vertebrate Zoology 57(2): 149-368.

Günther, A.C.L.G. 1875. Descriptions of the living and extinct races of gigantic land-tortoises. Parts I and II. Introduction, and the tortoises of the Galapagos Islands. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 165: 251–284.

IUCN. 2017. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2017-3. Available at: (Accessed: 7 December 2017).

Jensen, E.L., Tapia, W., Caccone, A. and Russello, M.A. 2015. Genetics of a head-start program to guide conservation of an endangered Galápagos tortoise (Chelonoidis ephippium). Conservation Genetics 16(4): 823–832.

MacFarland, C.G., Villa, J. and Toro, B. 1974. The Galapagos giant tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus). Part I: Status of the surviving populations. Biological Conservation 6: 118–133.

Poulakakis, N., Glaberman, S., Russello, M., Beheregaray, L.B., Ciofi, C., Powell, J.R. and Caccone, A. 2008. Historical DNA analysis reveals living descendants of an extinct species of Galápagos tortoise. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105: 15464–15469.

Poulakakis, N., Russello, M., Geist, D. and Caccone, A. 2012. Unravelling the peculiarities of island life: vicariance, dispersal, and the diversification of the extinct and extant giant Galápagos tortoises. Molecular Ecology 21: 160–173.

Pritchard, P.C.H. 1996. The Galápagos Tortoises: Nomenclatural and Survival Status. Chelonian Research Monographs 1: 1-85.

Rhodin, A.G.J., Pritchard, P.C.H. and Reynolds, R.P. 1983. Statusrapport för Galapagos jättesköldpaddor, Geochelone elephantopus, med anmärkningar om G. e. ephippium på Duncan. Snoken – National Swedish Herpetological Association 13(3): 67–72.

Rhodin, A.G.J., van Dijk, P.P. and Parham, J.P. 2008. Turtles of the world: annotated checklist of taxonomy and synonymy. Chelonian Research Monographs 5(1): 000.1-38.

Russello, M.A., Beheregaray, L.B., Gibbs, J.P., Fritts, T., Havill, N., Powell, J.R. and Caccone, A. 2007. Lonesome George is not alone among Galápagos tortoises. Current Biology 17(9): R317–R318.

Russello, M.A., Glaberman, S., Gibbs, J.P., Marquez, C., Powell, J.R. and Caccone, A. 2005. A cryptic taxon of Galápagos tortoise in conservation peril. Biological Letters 1: 287–290.

Tapia, W., Málaga, J. and Gibbs, J.P. 2015. Conservation: Giant tortoises hatch on Galapagos island. Nature 517(7534): 271.

TEWG [Turtle Extinctions Working Group: Rhodin, A.G.J., Thomson, S., Georgalis, G., Karl, H.-V., Danilov, I.G., Takahashi, A., de la Fuente, M.S., Bourque, J.R., Delfino, M., Bour, R., Iverson, J.B., Shaffer, H.B. and van Dijk, P.P.]. 2015. Turtles and tortoises of the world during the rise and global spread of humanity: first checklist and review of extinct Pleistocene and Holocene chelonians. Chelonian Research Monographs 5(8): 000e.1–66.

TTWG [Turtle Taxonomy Working Group: Bickham, J.W., Iverson, J.B., Parham, J.F., Philippen, H.D., Rhodin, A.G.J., Shaffer, H.B., Spinks, P.Q. and van Dijk, P.P.]. 2007. An annotated list of modern turtle terminal taxa with comments on areas of taxonomic instability and recent change. In: H.B. Shaffer, N.N. FitzSimmons, A. Georges, and A.G.J. Rhodin (eds), Defining Turtle Diversity: Proceedings of a Workshop on Genetics, Ethics, and Taxonomy of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises. Chelonian Research Monographs 4: 173-199.

TTWG [Turtle Taxonomy Working Group: Rhodin, A.G.J., Parham, J.F., van Dijk, P.P. and Iverson, J.B.]. 2009. Turtles of the world: annotated checklist of taxonomy and synonymy, 2009 update, with conservation status summary. Chelonian Research Monographs 5(2): 000.39–84.

TTWG [Turtle Taxonomy Working Group: van Dijk, P.P., Iverson, J.B., Rhodin, A.G.J., Shaffer, H.B. and Bour, R.]. 2014. Turtles of the world, 7th edition: annotated checklist of taxonomy, synonymy, distribution with maps, and conservation status. Chelonian Research Monographs 5(7): 000.329-479, doi:10.3854/crm.5.000.checklist.v7.2014.

Citation: Cayot, L.J., Gibbs, J.P., Tapia, W. & Caccone, A. 2017. Chelonoidis duncanensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T9021A3149054. . Downloaded on 24 June 2018.
Disclaimer: To make use of this information, please check the <Terms of Use>.
Feedback: If you see any errors or have any questions or suggestions on what is shown on this page, please provide us with feedback so that we can correct or extend the information provided