Chelonoidis phantasticus (Van Denburgh, 1907:4)

Fernandina Island giant tortoise, Narborough Island giant tortoise, Fernandina giant tortoise



Taxonomy & Nomenclature

Synonym/s: Testudo phantasticus Van Denburgh, 1907:4 (original combination); Chelonoidis niger phantasticus (Van Denburgh 1907); Chelonoidis nigra phantastica (Van Denburgh, 1907); Geochelone elephantopus phantastica (Van Denburgh, 1907); Geochelone nigra phantastica (Van Denburgh, 1907); Testudo elephantopus phantastica (Van Denburgh 1907)


Conservation Status

Last Record: 3 April 1906 (holotype collected) (Van Denburgh, 1907); 1964 (tortoise scat and cactus damage found) (Hendrickson, 1965); 2009 (possible aerial sighting) (Rhodin et al. 2017); 2013 (possibly scat and footprints) (Rhodin et al. 2017)

Relocated: 2019 (genetic tests yet to confirm)


No unequivocal sightings of this species have been made since the holotype was collected. However, indirect evidence in the form of a tortoise dropping and partially eaten Opuntia [cactus] were found in 1964 (Hendrickson, 1965). And a possible sighting from an airplane was made in 2009 (Rhodin et al. 2017). Moreover, there have been no exhaustive surveys on the island, and hence the IUCN RedList assessment is in error as regarding the conservation status assigned to the species.

The species' validity is potentially doubtful given that Fernandina seemingly never experienced any pressure from humans or other introduced species. It is hypothesized that the individual represents either an accidental seafarer, or deliberate cargo. However, if the species is valid it's extinction (or at least huge population reduction) may have been due to lava flows.

IUCN RedList status: Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct)



Fernandina Island (=Narborough Island), Galápagos Islands, Ecuador






Only known from the holotype collected by R. H. Beck on the 3rd of April, 1906, as part of the 1905-6 California Academy of Sciences expedition.






Original scientific description:

Van Denburgh, John (1907). Preliminary descriptions of four new races of gigantic land tortoises from the Galapagos Islands. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences (4) 1: 1-6.


Other references:

Day, David. (1981). The Doomsday Book of Animals: A Natural History of Vanished Species. New York, N.Y.: The Viking Press.

Ernst, C. H. and Barbour, R. W. (1989). Turtles of the world. Smithsonian Inst. Press.

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

Hendrickson, J. R. (1965). Reptiles of the Galápagos. Pacific Discovery 18(5): 28-36.

MacFarland, Craig G., Villa, José and Toro, Basilio. (1974). The Galápagos giant tortoises (Geochelone elephantopus) part II: conservation methods. Biological Conservation 6(2): 198-212.

Poulakakis, N. et al. (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, Peter Charles Howard. (1996). The Galápagos tortoises: Nomenclatural and Survival Status. Chelonian Research Monographs 1: 1-85. Published by the Chelonian Research Foundation.

Rhodin, A.G.J., Gibbs, J.P., Cayot, L.J., Kiester, A.R. & Tapia, W. 2017a. Chelonoidis phantasticus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T170517A1315907. Downloaded on 16 December 2017.

Rhodin, A.G.J., Gibbs, J.P., Cayot, L.J., Kiester, A.R. & Tapia, W. 2017b. Chelonoidis phantasticus (errata version published in 2018). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T170517A128969920. Downloaded on 22 February 2019.

Swingland, I. R. (1989). Geochelone elephantopus. Galapagos giant tortoises. In: Swingland I.R. and Klemens M.W. (eds.) The conservation biology of tortoises. Occasional Papers of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC), No. 5, pp. 24–28. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.

Townsend, C. H. (1925). The Galapagos tortoises in their relation to the whaling industry: a study of old logbooks. Zoologica 4(3): 55-135.

Turtle Conservation Coalition [Stanford, C.B., Rhodin, A.G.J., van Dijk, P.P., Horne, B.D., Blanck, T., Goode, E.V., Hudson, R., Mittermeier, R.A., Currylow, A., Eisemberg, C., Frankel, M., Georges, A., Gibbons, P.M., Juvik, J.O., Kuchling, G., Luiselli, L., Shi, H., Singh, S., and Walde, A. (Eds.)]. (2018). Turtles in Trouble: Te World’s 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2018. Ojai, CA: IUCN SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, Turtle Conservancy, Turtle Survival Alliance, Turtle Conservation Fund, Chelonian Research Foundation, Conservation International, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Global Wildlife Conservation. 80 pp.

Turtle Extinctions Working Group et al. (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 No. 5: 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: 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.

Peter Paul van Dijk, John B. Iverson, Anders G.J. Rhodin,H. Bradley Shaffer, and Roger Bour. (2014). Turtles of the World, 7th Edition: Annotated Checklist of Taxonomy, Synonymy, Distribution with Maps, and Conservation Status. 000.v7. Chelonian Research Monographs (ISSN 1088-7105) No. 5.

Van Denburgh, J. (1914). The gigantic land tortoises of the Galapagos archipelago. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences, Series 42(1): 203-374.


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