National Geographic logo

National Geographic
March 2nd, 2019
By Caitlin Etherton

These “Lazarus species” fascinate and inspire. Here’s how to visit them responsibly.

As climate change, habitat loss, and other factors put more and more animals at risk, we’ve become accustomed to hearing about species on—or past—the brink of extinction. But some canny creatures seem to have come back from the beyond. Enter the “Lazarus taxon,” a superstar team of roughly 350 species apparently raised from the dead like Lazarus from the tomb.

Some of these species are still so elusive we have no way of knowing whether to find their rediscovery optimistic or whether to prepare ourselves for another Lonely George (or Lonesome George). Others have made amazing comebacks. With awareness, critical care, and responsible tourism, more of these “living fossils” may truly live on. (Learn about the Photo Ark, one photographer’s mission to document animals at risk.)Chelonoidis phantasticus (Fernandina giant tortoise)—Galápagos Islands

On February 17, 2019, the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative found a female Fernandina giant tortoise on her namesake island. She’s thought to be over 100 years old, and an individual of her species hasn’t been seen since 1906—so she’s been hiding out for pretty much her entire “extinction.” Tracks and scents around Fernandina Island indicate she’s probably not alone. This lucky lady was taken to the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center where she’ll be kept safe from Fernandina’s erratic lava flows and looming Galápagos hawks. (Read more about this species’ recent resurgence.)

Adventuresmith Explorations’ eight-day cruise offers a chance to see not only tortoises, but penguins, marine iguanas, sharks, manta rays, sea horses, and sea turtles in and around Fernandina. Fausto Llerena offers regular tours of their breeding center and the Charles Darwin Research Station in Santa Cruz.