In a time where reports show that humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970, hearing news that two thought to be extinct animals have been rediscovered is most certainly something to celebrate. And coincidentally, both animals happen to have the word ‘giant’ in their name. The Fernandina Giant Tortoise of the Galapagos Islands was last seen in 1906 and Wallace’s giant bee of Indonesia in 1981.
Last Sunday, during an expedition by the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI), an adult female Fernandina Giant Tortoise was found and experts believe she may be more than a century old. The director and expedition leader stated that genetic tests would be carried out to reconfirm that this tortoise belongs to the Fernandina Island species. This tortoise is one of 14 giant tortoise species native to the Galapagos Islands of which most are endangered, primarily due to being killed over the past two centuries for food and oil. The team will continue their search plans, as tracks and scents of other tortoises were also observed that day, and will eventually start a breeding program in captivity to recover this species.
The Wallace’s giant bee is the largest bee in the world (as big as a human thumb), and scientists have long feared it had gone extinct. But in late January in Indonesia, a group of researchers comprised of a natural history photographer, an entomologist, a behavioral ecologist, and an ornithologist made the rediscovery. This bee has only been documented as being seen by two other researchers, once in 1858 and once in 1981 by entomologist Adam Messer. The team was able to find the bee by studying its habitat and behavior from Messer’s research as well as by examining satellite imagery to become more familiar with the terrain, knowing the bee prefers lowland forest and tree-dwelling termite nests.
It took days of hiking through humid forests before the researchers were able to find the bee. And after now rediscovering it, Clay Bolt, the natural history photographer of the group, said he hopes to work with local conservationists to potentially turn the Wallace’s giant bee into a flagship species for the area. Currently, this species of bee is classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of mining and quarrying. Deforestation in Indonesia has strengthened in the past decade due to agriculture, but despite this, the researchers say there is still enough forest and time to have hope for the bee and its survival.