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Lonesome George, the last of his subspecies, has died, leaving the Galapagos with one less species. Lonesome George was a member of the subspecies Chelnoidis abingdoni and was from the southernmost island in the Galapagos, Pinta Island.
Lonesome George – or Jorge – was first spotted by a Hungarian scientist and goat hunters in 1972. Scientists and researchers have been trying to eradicate the goat population on the Galapagos Island because they have destroyed the habitats for many of the native species. In fact between the hunting by sailors and fishermen for meat in the nineteenth century and the invasive goat species many of the tortoise species on the Galapagos are endangered or extinct. Currently there are still 20,000 tortoises of varying subspecies living in the Galapagos.
George was brought to Galapagos National Park shortly after being discovered where Ranger Fausto Llerena cared for him for forty years. Llerena noticed on Sunday, June 24 that George was not moving and when he examined him found that George was dead.
According to Llerena it seemed as though George was trying to get to the watering hole in his corral. The cause of death is unknown but the body is in a refrigeration chamber and an autopsy will be completed later. After the cause of death is determined he will most likely be embalmed to be preserved.
George’s age was estimated around one hundred years old although his exact age was unknown. For the giant tortoises, one hundred is equivalent to the age of a young adult as most live to be two hundred years old.
Lonesome George became was considered the rarest creature in the world for most scientists according to the BBC. George was also a symbol of the Galapagos Islands which draws around 180,000 tourists a year.
Scientists attempted to breed more of George’s subspecies by introducing him into a breeding program. Scientists originally used females from the Wolf Volcano region of Isabela Island subspecies. George lived with the females for fifteen years before they mated but the eggs were infertile. After this mating attempted failed he was placed in a corral with females that were genetically closer to him from the island of Espanola.
Next month there will be an international workshop of scientists who will work together to plan how best to manage and protect the tortoise population of the Galapagos for the next ten years. Galapagos National Park said in a statement, “the workshop will be held in honor of Lonesome George. The creature’s legacy will be greater efforts in research and management to restore the Pinta Island population and all the other giant tortoise populations in the Galapagos.”
Giant tortoises, which is galapagos in Spanish, are the namesake of the string of islands about 1000 kilometers (620 miles) off the Ecuadorian mainland in the Pacific Ocean. The islands acted as a natural laboratory for the English scientist Charles Darwin who created his theory of evolution and natural selection during his visit to the island. He later wrote his theories in his landmark book “The Origin of Species.”
Image Courtesy of A. Davey