Kathryn and I just learned (via a tweet from Bruce Poon Tip) that Lonesome George, the last remaining tortoise of his kind, died on Sunday of unknown causes. He was thought to be about 100 years old. A quick google confirmed his passing (via Reuters):
“This morning the park ranger in charge of looking after the tortoises found Lonesome George, his body was motionless,” the head of the Galapagos National Park, Edwin Naula, told Reuters. “His life cycle came to an end.” George was believed to be around 100 years old and the last member of a species of giant tortoise from La Pinta, one of the smallest islands in the Galapagos, the Galapagos National Park said.
Kathryn and I were fortunate enough to have visited the Charles Darwin Research Centre in December of 2010 and viewed Lonesome George who, living up to his name, was resting all by himself in his pen. In fact, the pen where George lived was visited by thousands of tourists every year, each seizing the opportunity to take a picture of one of the rarest creatures on Earth. We certainly cherish our photo of him (above).
An important icon
Indeed, Lonesome George was a sad—but important—icon. Watching him was like watching a species go extinct. His plight certainly touched all who saw and heard about him, drawing tourists from all over the world to the Islands and loosening wallets to help preserve the Archipelago.
The Galapagos National Park had been offering a reward of $10,000 for the discovery of a Pinta female, which was necessary to save the subspecies. Without a viable female, the Pinta Island tortoise had been considered functionally extinct in captivity; now, however, Lonesome George’s death signifies the complete extinction of the subspecies.
All may not be lost
According to Wikipedia, recently another male tortoise by the name of Tony, who currently resides in Prague Zoo, was discovered as most likely being an additional pure breed, native, Pinta tortoise. Believed to be born around 1960, Tony has been housed in the zoo since 1972. Peter Pritchard, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Galápagos tortoises (and of tortoises and turtles in the world, more generally), has found the shell on Tony to be extremely similar to that of George and Pinta museum specimens. Research is still currently being processed to confirm this match—and Tony is still being cared for at the Prague zoo.
Lonesome George was not just a tortoise but also a conservation icon—he was an ambassador to remind us to think about what we are doing to the world. And with his passing we are all, indeed, left a little bit lonelier.
Category: Dan's Blog