The Galápagos Islands, an archipelago of volcanic islands famous for their biodiversity, is home to a newly-identified species of giant tortoise, according to scientists.
Scientists had believed that the two populations of giant tortoise living on the Santa Cruz island were the same species, but genetic tests revealed otherwise, Ecuador's environment ministry said on Wednesday.
Research began in 2002, when scientists suggested that the tortoises could belong to a different species due to the formation of their shells. Testing has proved this to be the case, as the group living on the eastern side of the island was found to be genetically different from tortoises on other islands.
"We estimate that there are 250 or 300 creatures of this species," Ecuadoran scientist Washington Tapia, who participated in the research, told AFP.
The new species, named "Chelonoidis donfaustoi", after a retired Galápagos park ranger, is the 15th known tortoise species to be discovered on the Galápagos Islands, although four are now extinct. Scientists believe there are more than 2,000 tortoises of other species living across the island.
The Galápagos archipelago, which became UNESCO's first World Heritage Site in 1979, is located 620 miles west of Ecuador, and is home to the largest number of different animals species in the world.
The giant tortoise, a species which captured the imagination of British naturalist Charles Darwin in the 1830s, usually weighs up to 250kg, and can live longer than 100 years.
Scientists hope the discovery of a new species will aid in protecting and restoring the archipelago's giant tortoise population.