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Dispute Over Scientific Name Of Aldabra Tortoise Is Settled: T. Gigantea It Will Remain

French scientist loses dispute to name Aldabra tortoise after fellow French scientists

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A 200 year old disagreement over the scientific name of the Aldabra tortoise has finally been put to rest. The chelonian will remain named Testudo gigantea, the name given it in 1812 by German botanist August Friedrich Schweigger. That specimen, then housed at the Natural History Museum in Paris was lost for more than 200 years, according to a news report in the Wall Street Journal. Around 20 years later after Schweigger named the tortoise, two French biologists described two species of giant tortoise, one which was called Testudo elephantina and the other called T. gigantea. It was later determined by yet another scientist that the two specimens were actually the same species, and the Aldabra tortoise became known as T. gigantea.

This all changed in 1982 when French scientist Dr. Roger Bour somehow determined that the tortoise described by Schweigger did not come from Aldabra, the Indian atoll in the Indian Ocean where it got its name. Bour said that T. gigantea should be renamed T. elephantina, the name that was given to the tortoise in the 1800s by his fellow French scientists who preceded him in the study of these giant, 600 pound tortoises. This proposal led to a range of names for the tortoise, further confusing and causing a rift of sorts in the reptile-based scientific community.


In 2006, Dr. Jack Frazier, an American biologist set out find closure in the naming gamesmanship going on with the tortoise. According to the Journal report, Frazier designated a specimen at the Smithsonian museum as the new type specimen for the Aldabra tortoise and gave it the name T. gigantea. Dr. Bour that same year found the missing tortoise first described by Schweigger and named by him as T. gigantea. Dr. Bour somehow refuted the notion that the tortoise was from Aldabara but was rather from Brazil, and that T. gigantea was no longer a valid name. He then went on to name the tortoise T. dussumieri, after another Frenchman who found a tortoise on Aldabra in the 1800s.


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Dr. Frazier continued to lobby for the name T. gigantea, the report said, and filed a petition with the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), the governing body that arbitrates the scientific names for discovered species. The ICZN gave his petition a case number, 3463, which was handed to ICZN zoologist Svetlana Nikolaeva, who with her colleagues, determined that the tortoise named in the 1800s as T. gigantea will remain Testudo gigantea. This determination did not come about with its detractors, especially Dr. Bour. Bour and a colleague made a comment to the ICZN on the naming convention questioning the credentials of Dr. Frazier:  “In this case the issue was initiated by non-taxonomists apparently unschooled in the rules of zoological nomenclature,” they wrote in their comment. Frazier commented back, saying that to call a fellow scientist unschooled is the “height of arrogance.”  The 600 pound tortoise that caused international name calling amongst adult scientists in the scientific community is now, officially called Testudo gigantea, the name given it more than 200 years ago by German botanist August Friedrich Schweigger.