'Extinct or Alive': Forrest Galante Describes Rediscovering the Fernandina Tortoise, Feared Extinct for a Century (Exclusive)

Forrest Galante is kicking off the brand new season of Extinct or Alive on an optimistic note as viewers get an insider look at his expedition to the Galapagos, which made headlines earlier this year when the explorer and conservationist rediscovered a tortoise species thought to have been extinct for more than a century.

Prior to the Wednesday, Oct. 23 premiere of the Animal Planet series' second season, Galante talked with PopCulture.com about the gravity of finding the first Fernandina Tortoise in more than 100 years after it had been written off as extinct in the eyes of scientists all over.

With the Galapagos tortoises acting as "icons of conservation" since Charles Darwin first came to the islands, Galante says the re-discovery of the Fernandina Tortoise has "created a new poster child for conservation."

"I think that has such an important, impactful message," he explained. "We all have this childish sense of hope that dinosaurs are still out there, and we haven't destroyed as much of the planet as think we have. ... to see [the species] hanging on by a thread somewhere, it's such a hopeful message."

Forrest Galante and the Fernandina Galápagos Tortoise (2)
(Photo: Animal Planet)

Getting the clearance to travel to the remote Galapagos island of Fernandina was no easy task, and traversing the active volcano for days on end was even more difficult. So when he and the team actually managed to track down a female tortoise, Galante told PopCulture.com the feeling was absolutely indescribably.

"It's so hard to explain. Holding up an extinct animal, even now I get emotional thinking about it," he recalled. "To have It all pay off — because it is a one in a million shot — to have it all pay off, it's so rewarding and overwhelming and exciting."

The difficulties didn't stop there for the team, which faced with the "malnourished and dehydrated" singular Fernandina Tortoise, made the call to bring her back to a tortoise sanctuary, where she could possibly be the savior of her species.

"Leaving her there wasn't necessarily a death sentence, but it was a death sentence for the species," Galante explained, noting that on the active volcano island, the tortoise was "slowly starving to death" waiting for rainfall and small vegetation growth.

Bringing her up to a healthy weight in the sanctuary, scientists hopes the only known Fernandina Tortoise could eventually have offspring, as tortoises can maintain viable sperm within themselves for 15 years. Even if not, the publicity surrounding her discovery has helped raise a significant sum of money to finance another expedition looking for a mate that could be the secret to perpetuating the species for another geneation.

It's this kind of result that keeps Galante searching for other animals thought to be extinct — a sudden resurgence in research, funding and interest in not just the species, but also the habitat in which they live. And there's much more to come in Season 2 of Extinct or Alive as Galante takes to the Amazon rainforest, Borneo and other exotic locations in search of elusive species.

Don't miss Galante's wild adventure to re-discover the long-"extinct" Fernandina Tortoise in the Season 2 premiere of the Animal Planet series.


Extinct or Alive Season 2 premieres Wednesday, Oct. 23 at 9 p.m. ET on Animal Planet.

Photo credit: Animal Planet