A species of giant tortoise believed to be extinct has been discovered alive and well, more than 100 years after being eradicated from the Galapagos Islands.

The environment minister to Ecuador, Marcelo Mata announced the discovery of an adult female Fernandina Giant Tortoise. The first in over a century.

The sighting was recorded during an expedition to the volcanic island in the western Ecuadorian region.

Fernandina is the youngest and most volcanically active of the archipelago.

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It was found by members of the American NGO Galapagos Conservancy.

The last known sighting of a Fernandina tortoise was in 1906.

Park rangers and members of the Galapagos Conservancy carefully move their discovery. Photo / Supplied
Park rangers and members of the Galapagos Conservancy carefully move their discovery. Photo / Supplied

One of 14 species of giant tortoise recorded in the Galapagos, now only 10 remain. The animals were thought to have been hunted to extinction by European sailors.

One of the most famous visiting naturalists to have developed a taste for giant tortoise was Charles Darwin, the father of modern biology.

His observations of the giant shelled critters, made on his 1835 voyage to the islands, helped form his theory of natural selection.

Though the process that would later be termed as 'evolution', he noticed that the "tortoises differed from the different islands". He saw that the animals' shells differed by island, and some were "rounder, blacker, and have a better taste when cooked".

Their deliciousness seems to be an evolutionary flaw of the Fernandina Island giant tortoise, or Chelonoidis phantasticus.

Being eaten into extinction by evolutionary biologists was thought to have been the ironic fate of the land reptile, until this recent discovery.

European sailors were enamoured by the delicious Galapagos Giant Tortoise such as this one captured for presentation to Queen Victoria in 1850. Illustration / HultonArchive, Getty Images
European sailors were enamoured by the delicious Galapagos Giant Tortoise such as this one captured for presentation to Queen Victoria in 1850. Illustration / HultonArchive, Getty Images

The species was recorded on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as "critically endangered (possibly extinct)".

A spokesperson from the Galapagos Conservancy, the organisation that made the discovery, said: "While thought to be extinct due to volcanic eruptions in past centuries, there have been anecdotal observations indicating that there may indeed still be a very few left on the island."

Following scat and indications of living tortoises in the island they were finally able to track down a living specimen.

Pink nose: The Fernandina Island tortoise matches descriptions from the last known sighting, over 100 years ago. Photo / Supplied
Pink nose: The Fernandina Island tortoise matches descriptions from the last known sighting, over 100 years ago. Photo / Supplied

Wacho Tapia, Director of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, described the discovery made with park rangers as emotional.

"The conservation of Galapagos giant tortoises has been my world for 29 years," he said.

"To find a living tortoise on Fernandina Island is perhaps the most important find of the century."

Not far off, another conservation success story is told by the Duncan Island giant tortoises.

In January this year, the first clutch of Duncan Island tortoises were born in the wild following the islands designation as "predator free" in 2014.

The species had been eradicated in the wild by rats introduced by accident in the 1800s.