Monday, June 25, 2012

End of a Species - Lonesome George

Lonesome George with our Naturalist Guide
 Rest In Peace 
Lonesome George

Early Sunday morning, Lonesome George, the last known individual of the Pinta Island Tortoise, was found dead in his corral at the Tortoise Breeding and Rearing Center in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, by members of the Galapagos National Park Service.  His exact age was unknown, but he was believed to be more than 100 years old.

A member of one of eleven subspecies of Galapagos tortoise native to the Galapagos Islands, he had been labelled the rarest creature in the world, and was a potent symbol for conservation efforts in the Galápagos and internationally.

Not so Lonesome

Lonesome George was found on Pinta in 1972 although Pinta tortoises were thought to be extinct. Since then, Lonesome George has been part of the Tortoise Program of the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS). Various efforts were made to get George to reproduce. Two female tortoises collected on Wolf Volcano (Isabela Island) were put in Lonesome George’s corral. These females produced eggs at the end of 15 years with Lonesome George. Unfortunately all of the eggs were infertile. Later two females from the Espanola tortoise population (the species most closely related to Pinta tortoises genetically) were with George until the end.   

A visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora was not complete without stopping by Lonesome George's corral to see him drinking from his favorite watering hole or simply just lounging around.  We were fortunate to see him a few years ago when we were on Celebrity Xpedition in Galapagos.   George didn't mind having people checking him out, and would pose for photos with his guests.

A New Beginning

The cause of Lonesome George's death won't be known until a necropsy is completed.   He is being kept in a cold chamber to avoid decomposition prior to the necropsy.

His legacy will live on.  Following Lonesome George's death, Edwin Naula, Director of the GNPS, stated, “This July, the GNPS is convening an international workshop to focus on management strategies for the restoration of tortoise populations during the next ten years. The workshop will be held in honor of Lonesome George.“

Restoration of Lonesome George's island of Pinta as well as the other islands in the Galapagos archipelago will keep him in our minds for generations to come.    

Related Blog Posts:

Hope for Lonesome George
Galapagos - Charles Darwin Research Center (Day 9)

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